A scotsman, a reformed thief, a gay half-orc, halfling wizard, and two fearless warriors walk into a bar…

Rey is organizing events for the October Rebellion convention here in Denver, which is running ‘living’ games exclusively. For those not familiar with the RPGA, let me explain that living campaigns are basically like home campaigns (gain exp and gear, advance your character) except you’ve got 15000 people playing in the same setting (maximum of six to a table, please).
Most of the campaigns are good ones, and thus the judges (GMs) also like to play, so in order to get judges willing to GM tables for most living campaigns, you have to first organize “Slot Zero’s” for the judges (so named because they come before the First Slot of the convention). Judges play their own characters at the Slot Zeros, which lets them actually gain experience points and gee gaws for their characters as well as familiarizing them with the module in a way that a simple read-through rarely can. It’s a pretty good system (provided you can find someone willing to GM for the judges) and generally, when you sit down with a table full of people who are willing and able to GM for a group of strangers on a regular basis, you’ve a table full of good role-players.
Last night (Living Greyhawk) was no exception (although with the guys we had playing, we had more joking going on than actual hard-core roleplay, but still), and I had a great time, plus, this module’s a two-parter so we’re wrapping it up tonight with the same group. Good stuff.
Next week on Tuesday/Wednesday we’re Slot 0-ing the Living Force stuff (Star wars), then the week after that is more Living Greyhawk and some other fantasy thing I still need to create a character for (a much darker, intrigue-oriented thing).
Yeah, I’m playing a lot of games right now. I know. I plan to do something about it, then I think “wow, this would be a really cool campaign to run”. There just isn’t enough room in the week for everything I want to do, plus writing, plus working on the house and doing family stuff. I expect that there will be some changes pretty soon, since the current schedule has held together for about six months (or more) with no major changes… some players are getting new jobs, etc., and frankly there’s some stuff I’d like to wrap up to make room for other things.
Plus, hey, it’s coming up on the start of new seasons for my shows. That’s going to have an impact, I’m sorry. 🙂

Pulpy Goodness

I’ve finally added a link to the Pulp Adventures! website on the linkbar to the left. (The only reason I hadn’t up to this point was technical complications that would have come up with certain search engines.)
At any rate, this thing has been taking up a big chunk of my time lately, especially at cons, and I’m really excited about what we’re working on — in a few more months, we should have all the requirements completely in place to become an official member-run “Living” campaign for the RPGA. This means that people will be able to download and play the available scenarios anywhere the RPGA is active, using characters that gain benefits and experience as the storylines progress (yeah, just like in a normal campaign, but participating in the storyline with hundreds of other gamers). The fact that this could be a very popular and fun thing to be working on is a benefit — the fact that the whole thing is set in the Pulp genre of the 30’s makes the whole thing a blast.
After an abortive attempt at creating some gaming products last year, Rey and I have sort of fallen backwards into this and already accomplished even more than we’d originally planned for the other project.
It’s been easy (except for all the ass-busting labor). Go check it out.

“I cast magic missle. I attack the DARKNESS.”

Ahh, the paranoid religious tracts of Mr. Chick. I remember seeing Dark Dungeons in the ‘reading rack’ in the entryway of our church when I was a kid.
Those were the days…
Go ahead, click on the link… it’s like that DnD comedy skit that everyone’s got as a .wav file on their computers, except it’s not really funny.

(via Jon)

Moody

Turn of a Friendly Die: WISH 12: Mood Maintenance

How do you keep the mood? And once lost, how do you try to bring everyone back? Can you? Is it even possible? And what do you do with that one player who is always the first one to crack a joke and break up the tension you’ve built to so carefully, no matter how many times you’ve asked/warned him/her not to do that?

I’ll be an arrogant bastard and say that I don’t have many problems in any of my games, but this one definately is a problem, and a big enough one by itself to make up for the absence of others.
The problem is me, at least in part: I usually can’t resist ‘making the joke’ if there’s one out there to be made. This is true of myself as a player and as a GM (although I try to curb it as a GM a little bit), and I apparently have ‘led by example’ until my players follow suit… and most of them don’t need help.
I’ve got a few players who are especially bad about this, constantly cracking jokes or quoting vaguely-related movie lines… practically anything (it seems at some points) to avoid remaining in some semblance of character for two consecutive minutes. The odd thing is that I’ve never really given any thought on how to deal with it. Major digressions cost the players experience points (or gain them experience points, if I’m the one digressing), but I’ve never focused on mood breaking, and I’m beginning to think that maybe I should.
I’ve read some of the other posts on this subject, and I like some of the ideas that have come out of it. I think my DnD game is going to see one type (mood breaks = random encounters for 0 xp) and I’ll try another one on my Star Wars group (regular breaks to allow the chit chat which that group seems to so desperately crave).
Interestingly but not surprisingly, my Oriental Adventures game doesn’t really have this sort of problem. (Then again, the nature of that sort of game means that mood is far more a central requirement in the enjoyment of the game than for most.)
Or maybe I think that, which makes it so, and if I took that attitude with the other games, I’d have a similar result.
Hmm. Bears thinking about.

Pigskin Picks

My roster for the Weblogger Fantasy Football League:

Favre, Brett (QB-GB)
Horn, Joe (WR-NO)
Rice, Jerry (WR-Oak)
Green, Ahman (RB-GB)
Williams, Ricky (RB-Mia)
Gardner, Rod (WR-Was)
Bench McNair, Steve (QB-Ten)
Pittman, Michael (RB-TB)
Price, Peerless (WR-Buf)
Walls, Wesley (TE-Car)

Conclusion: Eh.
I like many of these players, but most aren’t on teams I (can) watch most of the time, so it’s hard to get into it. I’m pleased about Michael Pittman, because I think he’s a good match for Gruden, and Joe Horn was good for my last season. Jerry Rice, Ahman Green and Brett Favre are going to be my best chances to ‘watch’ my team, given my location, and I like those guys, so I guess it’s all good.
Given the number of times I trade players during a season, it’s not like any of this is written in stone anyway.
Update:
I missed my kickers and Defense:

Elam, Jason (K-Den)
Vinatieri, Adam (K-NE)

Very cool. I like Elam a lot, and he’s my only home-town boy. Overall, I’ve got 4 of the 25 top-ranked players going into the season. We’ll see.

Cleveland (DEF-Cle)
New York (DEF-NYJ)

On the other hand, I really don’t know what to think about these two. Ugh.
(Then again, since I did no prep, no research, and let Yahoo auto-pick my team for me, it’s not like I can really bitch. What I really need to do is sit down with Jackie and see what she thinks of the team and the players that are still available. I see some names I like in the free agents list, but she knows some of the guys I’ve got better than I do.)

And I don’t even like Tacticon

An all-weekend gaming convention does not take up the whole weekend; it takes up the whole month.
Between getting modules from the con admin, running (or playing) “Slot 0’s” to prep the other GM’s that haven’t played the scenarios which you have, prepping player handouts and other tidbits to make your tables “special”…
Denver has four of these mama-jama’s going over the course of the year. Tacticon is this coming weekend. I’ll be glad when it’s wrapped up.

Haven’t I seen you somewhere before?

Turn of a Friendly Die: WISH 11: Character Recognition

Have you ever seen or met someone — in person, on TV, in a movie, or whatever — who made you think “Oh my goodness, that’s my character!” Who was it (if you know), and what were the similarities?

I had to think about this for a long time, because while I might adopt a mannerism here or there, I’ve never come up with a character and THEN have someone remind me of them.
The closest I can come is the character of Calamus in Strange Weapons. About a third of the way into the book, I recognized that John Glover, as the Devil in the lamentably short-lived show Brimstone, made a great Calamus. After that, I kept hearing Glover do all Calamus’ dialogue in my head. In some ways, that even helped.

Session 15 — Clanky Robot Love

Star Wars: The Prince of Alderaan
The RimWorld Bacta War
Part VIII: “Let’s Split Up”

Apologies for the lateness of this update, but I’d already typed this out at one point and then lost everything.
The group began the session debating how to get Simon and the two Jedi down to the planet of Iktoch to deliver a supply of bacta to their critically injured liege without getting shot out of the air by Iktochi space patrols.
The trick was to look harmless. The problem with this (which Simon was more than willing to point out) was that in order to look harmless, the trio + Nayda had to essentially be harmless.
Eventually, the group decided to jump the Knight Errant into the very edge of the system and jettison an escape pod with the ‘planet mission’ group on board. This seemed to work: they were picked up by a planetary orbital patrol and brought down to the spaceport, where they were immediately identified and confined until authorities could arrive. At that point, Simon talked his way into getting the Bacta to Senator Antilles.
The second complication was more challenging. There was clear (and convincing) footage of the group attacking the RimWorld diplomats during their last stay on the planet (one of the reasons they were being hunted), and equally convincing film footage of a fight they were involved in in the warehouse district at the same time. Simon got the Iktoch diplomatic liason to allow them to clear themselves if possible, and the four left for the area where they’d supposedly attacked the RimWorlders.
Meanwhile, those remaining on the ship tried to figure out how to find the RimWorlders to present them with an alternative to raiding the Trade Federation and immobilizing Hyperspace travel all along the major trade routes. Finally, they hit on a plan to go where the RimWorlders were going: that is, to anticipate the arrival of a Trade Fed ship coming into a nearby system and lie in wait, then follow the raiders back to a base if possible. (Thus far, the Knight Errant has proven immune to the virus that has immobilized any Hyperspace pursuit — no one knows why.)
This basically works. In a nearby system, the Errant lie dormant until the TF ship arrives, watches while the (numerous) RimWorld ships attack, collect the cargo, and jump away. Figuring trajectory, they deduce that the Consortium ships were headed either for an independant space station/trading hub, a farming planet, or a mining colony about 4 days away. They go for the trading station.
Having arrived at the station, they locate the RimWorlders (some of them, anyway, including the first mate), and make them interested in what they’re selling (which is: Bacta worms, with instructions on who to talk to to learn how to take care of them). The whole group heads back to the RimWorld’s docking bay for a nice public chat.
Hell breaks loose:
On Iktoch, our group of investigators are attacked by… themselves. One of the attackers shouts “no witnesses” and the whole group of imposters (?) charge in.
On the Space station, blaster fire and explosions suddenly echo from the vacinity of the RimWorld ship. The group runs for their own ship (and their heavier weapons), while Keema sends her droid to scout ahead. The holoprojected recording shows two Trade Federation Droiddekas clomping out of the RimWorld ship’s cargo hold — the TF apparently hid these little surprises in their cargo to punish would-be pirates.
Wee-haa…

WISH 10: Fun Creations

From Turn of a Friendly Die:

What’s the most fun you ever had creating something in a game that changed the game-world?

There was a point early on in TiHE where one player decided that, mathematically, there had to be ten “factors” in the universe (including the three dimensions + time). I don’t recall the specifics, but he’d written something up for a future earth that utilized amazingly engineered sources of power that no one completely understood… all they knew was that they Math for the power source only worked with Ten factors involved.
It was convincing enough as an argument that I reexamined the sources of power (at that point, including the aforementioned 4 dimensions, I only had a total of eight). With that impetous, I realized there could and should be a ninth and tenth, which then changed significant portions of the later story.
Ander and his player had a huge influence on the game — sadly, that’s not really reflected in the game logs.
I guess I was happy with the Twilight power I came up with for TiHE.
I tend to come up with plots that change the setting, not items. I think my all-time favorite in that department was when I realized in about session eight of TiHE that Benedict-with-one-arm was a fake; Osric posing as his captured-and-currently-blinded brother. That was fun.

I’m really smart about being Stupid

This weekend, I play-tested Rey’s Pulp Adventures module that we’re debuting at Tacticon next month. Good stuff.
I was playing Tony Vincetti, “Professional Driver” (read: New York cabbie). Tony’s quick on his feet, and quite personable when you get to know him, but in the words of one of the other players at the table “not the sharpest knife in the drawer.” Here’s a sample:
Interpol agent: “The Doctor has escaped a prison for the criminally insane in Rouen.”
Tony: “Well Jeez, put him in a place that ain’t fallin’ down, for starters.”
On encountering french food:
Tony: “What’s this?”
French PC: “Quiche.”
Tony: “Excuse me?”
French PC: “Quiche.”
Tony: “Hey, that reminds me of somethin’ I heard about you French girls, c’mere a second…”
Later:
French PC: “No no, eet is Quiche.”
Tony: “Oh, that’s what you call eatin’. You french guys gotta different word for everything.”
Talking to French guard
Tony: “You like doing guard work? My cousin does that and he likes it.”
Guard: “Eet is veree good.”
Tony: “You guys get holidays off, like the Fourth of July?”
Guard: “No, we do not celebrate the Fourth of July.”
Tony: “… what?”
Guard: “We do not celebrate the Fourth of July. [Short pause, then he adds, trying to be helpful.] We celebrate the Fourteenth of July instead.”
Tony: “[thinking] Oh, sure, cuz of the international date line. That makes sense.”

Praise

Now that I’m done ranting about Diceless stuff, I’ll say this: Mike’s rules for New Mutiny are smart, elegant, clean, and probably the best SFSP Amber rules I’ve ever seen.
If I ever run an Amber game again, it’ll be with those rules or some version thereof. (Hell, it’s almost enough to make me want to run again, which is a hell of a feat, let me tell you.)

Coming to a Conclusion

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to what I want in a game system; what works for me and what doesn’t.
I want to know objectively (not subjectively) what the character is capable of in most any situation likely to occur within the genre. I want a game system that defines those values ahead of time.
I want the GM’s subjective opinion to determine what an NPC is going to do, but I want a hard-and-fast rule to determine what the result is. Either relying on the GM’s personal opinion to determine an action’s result or using a game rule to determine an NPC’s action is a failure in game design.
Those criteria in place, I just don’t see myself playing Amber Diceless campaigns anymore. Every time I try to work on something long-term for that system, I feel like I’m wasting time on a dead end.
I acknowledge that no game is perfect, but some are less-flawed. I can choose to ignore any rules that try to take subjective storyline control out of the hands of the player and GM’s hands. I can’t simply choose to ignore that there is no viable objective task resolution in ADRPG. After eight years of doing Amber diceless, I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t believe subjective task resolution works, and by “works” I mean “satisfies and entertains the participants, long-term”.
For me, it better to start with structure and remove what I don’t need than build structure on a surface that won’t support it.

Obviously, I should not…

1.) Play while tired.
2.) Design warfare-characters for a game system whose combat system I despise (a word I chose very carefully).
3.) Promise to start a campaign when I honestly have no interest in doing so.
4.) Continue to run games I no longer care about.
5.) Get involved in any more games until I’ve finished up at least one that I’m involved in.

Honey, can you pass me the dice bag?

Turn of a Friendly Die: WISH 9: Significant Others

Have you ever gotten a significant other into gaming? Those of you in “mixed marriages”, where one spouse is a gamer and the other isn’t, how did you work this out?

I got Jackie into gaming about a year after we started dating, then into Amber, etc. Thus far, I have never been wrong about whether or not she would like a particular game or not. She’s a great player (although her Amber characters tend to follow a certain mold), and the games where she plays a character further outside herself are frequently her best characters.
Just last week in an RPGA game, she and I were both playing and she got a better score from the group that the end than I did. She was surprised, as that’s never happened before. (Oddly, she tends to design her great characters for games in which she doesn’t play with our friends regularly; they tend to see her ‘regular’ character personality a lot.)
I’ve never ‘met’ anyone via gaming, but two of my close friends who are now married met in my first Amber game.
My first long relationship involved a non-gamer, but she often attended the games, sat quietly and (if I remember correctly) paid attention to what I was saying better than some of my players. “Weren’t you guys listening? He just said the door is covered in slime. Jeez.”
I think she played a couple times, but it just wasn’t her cuppa.
To my personal credit, I’ve never been accused of bending the rules for my Significant Other.

Session 14

Star Wars: The Prince of Alderaan
The RimWorld Bacta War
Part VII: “Sometimes the Worm Eats You”

Dave Hill
12 July 02


After defeating the Labor Droids on Iktotchi, we took off from the planet and escaped the system patrols, aided by an astrogation virus that was blocking pursuing ships from getting into hyperspace. We still haven’t figured out why our ship isn’t affected.
Three days later, we arrived at system M13.
From the droid we’d recovered, we learned of the assassination of the entire Black Sun leadership, and how a Black Sun faction (apparently housed at a monastery on M13) could, if sucked into the Black Sun civil war, “disrupt pharmaceutical supply chains.”
Sharess had to be intensively treated for injury, using up most of our remaining medpacks; when done, only Corva had any left (two). He always seems to have some extra supplies.
We landed some distance away, under cover, and made our way overland to the monastery, which was some sort of ferro-crete landing platform/multi-level complex suspended over a lake on long sweeping legs. On the way, we were attacked by a long but very narrow snake/worm that seemed almost metallic and dove through the earth as though it was water. It injured Simon pretty badly (as it went through him with the same ease). Gan (the jedi padawan traveling with the Senator that we’d somehow picked up at Iktochi) slice-and-diced it. It was only after the battle that we realized that, as a metal-based creature, it would likely have been susceptible to ion guns.
With binocs, we surveyed the monastery. It all looked peaceful until we noticed the blaster-riddled monk hanging out one window. We sprinted the rest of the way to the stairs leading up to the landing platform, hoping to avoid more worms. It was desserted, save for the blasted ruins of a ship lying mostly under a movable cover. We headed down the stairs, which were formed out of cement to resembled carved stone, with old metal doors. It really felt like a primitive monastery in some places.
We exited at the first level to find the site of what looked like a major battle, all civilians (though armed), lots of bodies. We were able to recover a number of ion pistols and rifles, and proceeded onward.
On computer terminals we found a map, which listed an infirmary on the third main level and in sub-level 3. Level 1, where we were, was communal areas. Level 2 would be the monks cells. Level 3 would be the offices, as well as the infirmary.
The computer revealed records of some sort of enterprise the monks were into, and made reference to units of production and had inventory counts, but seemed vague about what it was all about. Simon was convinced the evasions were intentional.
We found much the same — both vague journals (“our distributors have arrived”) and carnage on level three. There seemed to be multiple parties that had fought there, and lots of bodies and weapons left behind — none of which boded well. The journals warned of potential dangers of the conflict — noting that the “unrest” was “very disruptive to our herd” that “the fighting is getting worse” and “the last shift never reported back.”
The infirmery at that level was ransacked. Lots of bodies, evidently taken out by a thermal detonator.
We found the office of the Abbot, Kostel Lo. Again, the notes in his computer were vague. There were references to ther temples in their Order, and how the Black Sun used them (or was used) for redistribution of “the product”. More references to “the product” and “the herd.”
We descended further, down a spiraling stair, encountering more bodies evidently caught by a trip wire trap.
Down at the bottom of the stairs, we found a freight elevator back up to the landing platform, as well as barrels of bacta, spoiled. Beyond was the door to the lower level. There we found various locked doors and impromptu welded barriers of debris, none of which made us feel any better. Beyond one such set of barriers (short work made of by the Jedi) and door, we found a (very) small sentry droid. Its memory showed it had been patrolling for about 10 days, and hadn’t seen any humans for five days. It was not triggered to attack by our entry, though. A review of its programming indicated it was there to protect against worms, of the sort we’d fought outside the complex, only much bigger.
From there we found the control room, much the same as what we’d already found save that the bodies were skeletons stripped of all flesh. There were big holes in the floor, too. As Simon put it, “Why are we here, instead of a huge army of people who know what they’re doing?”
Peering through the holes in the control room’s floor, we could see only that the large chamber below was … moving. More worms. Lots more worms. Agitated worms. Dag and Simon got the lights running…
The control room overlooked a vast chamber, filled with the worms. In the center was a large extraction tube, to pick up the … bacta that the worms produced (vomiting it over their eggs).
Looking through the computer records, we discovered that a few of the worms had escaped into the outdoors and subsequent explosions (from two competing factions of the out-of-control Black Sun fighting for control of the base) had ruptured their retaining walls. The worms would reproduce quickly with “robust” food sources — like the native animals beyond. Or, on an inhabited planet, the populace, which is why they were being raised on this un-colonized planet. Electricity, the records indicated, would kill them quickly. The worms were sensitive to psychic emanations, too, which is why the monks had been so well-suited to raising them, using their monastic calm to good purpose.
We made a note of the locations of the three other monastaries in the same Order (who were all apparently working on the “ends justify the means” philosophy, figuring that by keeping the bacta production secret and distributing it via the Black Sun, they were doing the most good while protecting the larger sentient galaxy from it’s own greed, bad luck, and stupidity).
Learning what we’d needed to learn, we prepared to depart, first we securing some cannisters of unspoiled bacta, and using the freight elevator (checknig the shaft for traps first) to bring it up to the top, where we could use a grav skiff to get back to the ship without having to walk over worm-ridden terrain.
It was around then that it occured to us that there had been multiple Black Sun factions fighting, but only one ruined ship. Which meant … the sound of an deorbiting ship we heard was Not A Good Thing. We headed back to our ship quickly, and took off just in time to miss encountering the assault cruiser that was landing.
Back in orbit, we fired up the new hypercom that the Senator had had installed for us. We learned that about eighty percent of the Trade Federation leadership had been assassinated during the talks on Eriadu (killed by their own security droids, of all things). The Nemoidians were now basically in charge of the Traders (since their representative in the Council was the only member who hadn’t been there when the droids had gone berserk — how convenient).
As a result, the Trade Federation had declared a state of emergency and cancelled any talks with the Rim World Consortium. Interstellar trade was creeping to a standstill due to the astrogation bug (which was apparently spreading) — which the Consortium was taking credit for, holding space travel hostage until they got more bacta to distribute to the outlying worlds.
We headed back to Iktochi to provide Bayle with some of the bacta we’d obtained. We figured the bacta would also be a useful trade tool with the government there when we turned ourselves in over the trumped charges of attacking the Rim World Consortium.
By the time we arrived there, though, we’d changed our plans. Nayda, Simon, and the Jedi would head down to the planet with bacta for the Prince, while the rest of us would try to find the Rim World Consortium to negotiate with them regarding the bacta sources we’d found.
You see, one of the canisters we’d picked up didn’t have bacta in it; it contained dormant worms. With that to ‘seed’ a new hive and contact with the monastic Order to train them, the RWC could begin production of their own bacta supply.

Amber Page updates

I’ve finally posted the log of the last TiHE session (the 91st) after thinking I’d lost it. You can read 83 to 91 right here.
In related news, The Hall of Mirrors, as a blog, has ceased to be (I’d had it up for over a year with only 18 posts, so I didn’t really see the point). Diceless-related posts will of course still happen, they’ll just happen here.
The page itself, of course, is still there.

Maxims, the Sequel

WISH 8: Maxims, Redux

Pick three gaming maxims that other people wrote about and discuss how you think they have applied, or not, in your experience as a gamer. Do they make sense? Are they true or false? Maxims that simply never occurred to you are also eligible for discussion.

Arref said: So much for Plan A.
Plans are fine and good things, but I’ve seen so many game sessions bog down in the planning stages of some huge project that the frustration would start to mount before anything even happened.
From a GM’s point of view, I think preparation is important (more or less so, depending on the game that your running — I would rarely bring prepatory notes to an Amber session, since it was enough that I had thought about the game during the week — conversely, I find preparation is important for my d20 games so that the game doesn’t flounder. I have some theories as to why that is, which I’ll expound on later.
Michael said: Whatever you do, don’t say ‘Whatever you do, don’t roll a one’.
My wife, whom I love and introduced to gaming, somehow picked up from another player the idea that GM’s shouldn’t touch your dice. Everyone else can and that’s fine — she frequently lends her dice to other players — but woe to any GM that touches her dice.
Forget about rolling them: when I’m GMing, I’m not even allowed to shove them back across the table to her. If I do, I get a severe chastising, and the ‘tainted’ dice go back in her bag for the night.
If I’m playing, I can use her dice all I like.
I’d make fun of this, but I have my own quirk: I use a laptop when running my games, and of course I have several dice rollers on there. My rule is this: I do all my GM rolling on the laptop — my personal dice only come out of the bag when I’m playing. If I use them for both jobs, their karma gets all mixed up and they don’t roll well for either task.
So there. 😛
Julia: It’s not the GM’s game, it’s everyone’s.
In the best game, I am barely more than just another player in the group. I don’t like being the pivot that everything hinges on.
This kind of goes back to the level of preparation for the GM: with Amber (or some other high-powered games), I could play it light with the game prep because the players themselves would carry a great deal of story simply by working on their private projects.
I think other, lower-powered games require more GM prep because there is simply less player-driven action.
That’s not to say character-driven — I hope a great deal of it is that, but player driven, not so much — the reason is simply that people expect to be functioning as a group in such games, and the mindset of ‘working on my own stuff’ isn’t there.
I want to break myself of this habit — allowing or encouraging it, whatever it is. With some games it’s easier — I think that BESM it would be pretty simple; some games makes it more difficult, since the group-mentality is built into the premise of everything (d20). Also, I’ve got a lot of ‘traditional’ players in my DnD game, which doesn’t help.
Participating player: “Am I hungry? What restaurants do I see?”
Contributing player: “I’m hungry, I’m going to that little chinese bistro I found.”
I think I’m making progress with my Star Wars game… my players are helping with that of course.
It’s understandable — I know lots of games where THE rule is NSTFP: “Never Split the Fucking Party”, and it’s a GOOD rule. I just like it when people break the rule and head off on their own thing. It’s exciting.

Maxims

WISH 7: Maxims

List three or more maxims/proverbs/bits of conventional wisdom/etc. that you’ve learned in your gaming career, and explain what they mean and how you’ve seen them apply in your gaming experience.

I’m going to list the maxims first, then edit the post in a few minutes and add the details, because this will take time, I have to run errands, but I wanted to get my first thoughts down.
Everything is window-dressing.
Probably one the single most important GMing rules I ever encountered, which is funny since it wasn?t presented as a GMing but a Design rule for Champions. I designed a lot of stuff using that game system when I was in college and the rule stuck in my head.
This is what it boils down to: fireballs or grenades, lightning bolts or blaster rifles, FTL engines or Flying carpets — the effect and purpose of a thing is nine-tenths what it does and one-tenth what it looks like, but everyone focuses on what it looks like. This truism has become more and more important to me as I design settings, stories, and games — do what you like, but when it all comes down to it the backbone of it a game should allow you to compare a witch’s firebolt to a cyborg mercenary?s flamethrower on the same scale… aside from window dressing, they might be the exact same thing.
Hot rods or tamed dinosaurs = cool way to travel.
Old star ships or ancient magical artifacts = glitchy way to travel quickly.
Nuclear bombs or primal chaos = ridiculous levels of destruction.
Trumps or cell phones = instant communication and quirky functionality.
Window dressing. Don?t be distracted by the window-dressing.
Don?t be afraid of getting big.
This one comes from the Amber DRPG and is probably the most useful bit of advice in that gamebook: don?t try to force you player?s character into a box of your design if they?re gotten to big for the box… just make the box bigger. RPG?s have been around for close to thirty years now, the good ones have stayed around, and if they are well designed (which they probably are if they survived that long), then this is true: they can handle it if the world gets bigger.
Partly, this ties into the window dressing maxim. Here?s an example: a month or so ago, I kicked the ever-lovin? crap out of my DnD group. This was understandable as they were fighting a dark god?s avatar. I won?t get into numbers, but the best fighter had only about a 25% chance to hit with each swing, the spell casters were wrestling with the thing?s natural resistances, and everyone else was using their best tricks just to help the most effective people out. Afterwards, one mentioned how much tougher the fights were now that they were higher level.
To which I said bullshit. When they were at fourth level, I used two ogres and six orcs, but the results were the same: 25% chance to hit the main target, mages (using web and sleep) unable to solidly smite the main guys, and everyone else working like hell to keep everyone fighting and breathing. Both fights took almost exactly the same toll on the part, relative to their strength at the time.
So they become minor diefied heroes and want to keep playing? No problem: if you were ever able to handle them, I guarantee you still can.
Everyone needs a niche. (Everyone?s a star)
This is just one of those things you realize after awhile — a trick for making everyone in the group happy.
Here?s the thing: no one really wants to be the sidekick. They might play Robin, but in their mind, this Batman story is actually being told from Robin’s point of view.
That’s impossible to do in a multiplayer game, at least 100 percent of the time — if it is true, then everyone else but the ?star? is unhappy. Everyone has to be a star sometimes. It?s fine to watch Buffy or Angel and say ?that?s a damn good show?, but if that were a group of players, everyone would start hating the person playing the title characters and resenting the GM?s fixation (especially in the first two seasons of either show).
Contrast this to Farscape. Hell of a lot more like a group of PC?s there.
Everyone wants to shine… everyone wants their moments. For that, everyone needs a niche — something only they can do or which they can clearly do better than everyone else. In my experience, this can be Amber DRPG?s strength and weakness: with ranking, you might clearly be the best at Attribute X, but there are only Four attributes, so what do you do when there are five, six, seven or more players? Power niches? They still need you to be good at an attribute, and if owner of that Attribute also has ?your power?…
It?s tough, and it lies with the GM to say ?that?s a really neat character concept, but we really already have a computer whiz… how about focusing more on Repair and Craft skills… it works with the history and you would be the tech/mechanic.
Before the game starts, it helps if you know what all the character?s niches are. Depending on the game, it may fall to you or the player to highlight that niche, but either way you need to be aware of it. I guarantee the player is.

Secret, secret, who’s got a secret?

WISH 6: Secrets

Sometimes the plot of a game requires a GM to keep secrets. Is it better for the GM and other players to keep most out-of-character knowledge secret, or to assume that players are capable of keeping in-character and out-of-character knowledge separate? Where and how do you draw the line as a GM and/or player between what secrets should be kept and which ones are OK to reveal?

There are ‘secrets’ (things about the campaign only the character in question currently knows), and SECRETS (things about the CHARACTER that no one suspects).
Generally, I’m quite free in sharing ‘secrets’ in front of others — my players know not to act on the information. Sometimes I decide to keep that exchange of information quiet so that not only the character but the player is solely aware of the info. I usually do this to give the player a boost in the game — when only they truly have the information, they feel empowered and motivated — it can help a floundering player find direction.
With SECRETS, however, I am much more careful and don’t even like having oblique conversations about the subject where other people can hear them. (This is mostly because my players are smart cookies and will figure things out with any sort of real clue.)

…and again.

Turn of a Friendly Die: WISH 5: Communication

Gaming requires the GM and players to communicate a large amount of information about system, plot, setting, character, and actions (among other things). There are a lot of places where a failure to communicate on the part of the GM and the players leads to disappointments for the GMs and the players. How do you deal with miscommunications and invalid assumptions as a player and a GM? Give one or more examples of situations and how you resolved them or how you are avoiding them.

One of the downfalls to freeform games is that a great deal is left open to interpretation by the reader, whether that reader is the player or GM. Add to that previous assumptions built on games with other players and gm’s, and you have a real mess right off the bat.
I’m no rules monkey, but I’ve found that I can have the storytelling freedom I want without throwing out every rule in the game… it’s like a sonnet — very strict rules, but complete freedom within if you know how to find it — some people find it terribly stifling, some find it freeing, allowing them to spend more time on the message and less on the structure.
Example: If you’re playing a structured game, you don’t have to deal with “I think my character should be tougher” or “well, I thought 4 hit points WAS tough enough against that guy” or “I really envisioned my fireball being bigger”. Sure, someone might say that, but the obvious answer is that there are clear rules for MAKING yourself tougher, your fireball bigger, or knowing if 4 hit points is ‘tough’, using the mechanics that everyone agrees on. If you didn’t do that, then tough noogies.
Now take the freeform rules: you thought you designed your character correctly, because the rules are vague and open to interpretation, and the gm didn’t have time to cover every frelling aspect of a day-in-the-life of your character, then we have a conflict based on failure to communicate.
The GM just needs to explain more? I’m in an Amber game right now in which the GM explains everything up to and including how far we can jump, what we can lift, and how long we can hold our breath, based off the same four stats everyone else uses… and we STILL manage to disagree on basic functions of the game system. That’s a hell of a lot of work when there are other systems that make the whole thing clear from the start.
Why work with a game system that starts you off on such a crappy footing, with extra work to do?
It all comes down to structure and rules for me — I hate arguing about them — not their interpretation, mind you — that can sometimes be refreshing as a mental exercise — but arguing whether or not the rule even exists makes my head steam. Pre-existing structure is good.
How do I avoid the problem? Well lately, I simply avoid GMing freeform games. Playing them — well, then it’s someone else’s headache. (Sometimes a headache caused by me, I suppose — there I go with those assumptions.)

Catching Up

Turn of a Friendly Die: WISH 4: Systems

Describe three systems you have gamed under: one you thought was good, one you thought was all right, and one you didn’t care for. Is there a system you’d really like to try that you haven’t? Which ones wouldn’t you try based on reading them?

Good
d20. Seriously. Knowing first-hand where it came from, and what it used to be like (and swearing off of it in the middle of 2nd edition), I just can’t help but love the simplicity of the mechanic — the SAME mechanic, regardless of whether it’s combat, skill checks, whatever.
Sometimes I enjoy the tactical challenges of the combat rules… Attacks of Opportunity, etc… I loved playing Space Hulk and Battletech, too… sue me. Sometimes I don’t jones on it, but that’s alright too.
Currently, I run a straight (but very money-poor) fantasy campaign, a Star Wars campaign, an Oriental Campaign, Pulp Adventure, Jungle, and I’m thinking about running a one-on-one d20 Spycraft campaign. I’m waiting for Farscape (coming soon, I hope), and I’m buying d20 Silver Age Sentinels as soon as it comes out next month to cover Supers. Of course there’s also d20 Amber, which I think I’m getting really close to revealing the second iteration of — it CAN work… I really believe that.
(The problem there is no one I know is as into d20 and Amber as I am to give it a try, and I’m simply that I’m so sick of using Amber as a setting that I’m going to have to come up with some other ‘godlike’ setting to test the rules in.)
Also, having veritable tablefuls of new material being turned out by independant publishers is great.
All right
GoO’s BESM system is alright. I really liked it for a long time, and I even think I wrote some good stuff for it, but there’s two things that sort of messed it up for me:
1) The dice mechanic is assinine and counter-intuitive. I ignored it as long as I could… so there.
2a) I didn’t end up on a good footing with the folks working at the company… it sort of mars everything I do with the game system.
2b) Bringing on David Pulver was a mistake in my opinion, changing the direction of the company from ‘nearly diceless’ to ‘nearly Gurps’. I which the game had gone the development route of Hot Rods and Gun Bunnies and not the direction of Big Robots and Cool Starships. Those two books show a profound difference in design philosophy… but one was written by David “I’m in charge of the production line now” Pulver, so guess which way they went?
If it weren’t for (2), I would fix (1), which would make this a “Good” game for me. Ahh well.

Also in this category: I wish I liked Gurps more than I do, because they do great sourcebooks and it’d be nice not to have to convert everything to some other system.
Bleh
Rolemaster is just too easy for me to twink out.
Want to Try
Legend of the Five Rings. I’m running a d20 game using some of the setting, but the mechanics for the original game system look slick, elegant, and seem to fit the setting very well. (I get to see a lot of the game system, since I’m frequently converting stuff to d20… it sort of feels like Shadowrun (multiple dice) meets Everyway’s elements.
Read and didn’t like
I really wanted to like Nobilis. I really don’t.

Side-think

In an effort to reduce the boring “anvil chorus” of a typical DnD combat, I added a house rule on Friday night.
No bonus if you ‘just swing’.
+1 bonus if you describe the attack in an interesting way, including where you’d like to hit and what you’d like to accomplish.
+2 bonus if you can do the above and tie it into the things that had occured in the previous round in an interesting way (build off it).
Basically, giving a bonus instead of a penalty for called shots (and I think I might have gotten the idea from someone’s recent WISH entry, which I still have to do 😛 )
Result: far more memorable combats, with much more vivid descritions from both the players and the GM (shame on me for needing this boost, but oh well), and a far clearer understanding of what was going on.
The bonuses were not unbalancing (and weren’t used all the time at all). In general, only the ‘big’ fight seemed to warrant it, just like a movie — the drones just got cut down, ho hum, and the big fights were much more detailed and interesting.
There were a couple times when a narrow miss was turned into a hit when one player urgently told another “describe it, you might hit!” Good stuff.
I don’t think I’ll do the same for Star Wars — doesn’t exactly feel right for the genre, with all the wild shooting and lack of sniping (that and Jedi’s are annoying enough with their glowsticks without getting bonuses for attacking weapons). Don’t know.
Definately adding it to the Oriental Campaign, though.

Star Wars – Session 12 & 13

Session 12 – Stunning Revelations
The GM has lost his notes on this session, so until he finds them, here’s the quick summary:
The party finds the backworld planet that Nayda visited, and backtracks along her route, trying to figure out what she saw or found that was dangerous. This eventually leads them to a secluded landing platform in the middle of nowhere. The group lands some distance away and tries to sneak in, but runs into booby traps.
At this critical point, Faloon betrays the group and stuns several of them, then pulls a thermal detonator, trying to stall until his allies at the platform ahead can get there.
Of course, the group fights, and we all learn how the new stun rules work. It’s very enlightening.
In the end, the group staggers away, some badly wounded, with an incapacitated Faloon in tow. When they reach the ship, they find a message waiting from Prince Antilles, instructing them to break off the investigation and meet him at the planet of ________.
Session 13 – Pieces of the Whole
The PC?s meet up with the Senator’s entourage at the planet of ____________, where he is representing the Republic in negotiations between the Trade Federation and members of the Outer Rim Consortium that has been “liberating” Bacta from Trade Federation shipments to redistribute to the Fringe worlds.
Antilles doesn’t know quite what to make of the information about Nayda. It appears that she simply stumbled into some sort of smuggling operation, except for the droid body that was in her locker at the starport, which seems to imply that she did a little bit more than simply spot a smuggling platform. Antilles confirms that it matches the head of the droid they recovered in Head Trip, and that the head is supposed to contain data directly concerning the bacta shortage, so the fact that she discovered it — in fact, the idea that she knew it was important — is very significant. Nayda has no idea why she would have thought it was important.
That afternoon will be the first meeting of the Trade Federation, terrorists, and Antilles. Antilles wants the group along as his personal entourage (including a Jedi padawan whose master was accompaning Antilles, but who was called away to a disturbance at Eriadu). Simon and Corvo are supposed to be directly assisting the Senator in these negotiations (the Senator thinks the Core Worlds should get most of the current Bacta Supply, based purely on population centers), but a few minutes into the meeting a message is delievered, expressing the regrets of the Trade Federation, who “have been delayed but the continued attacks on our ships”. The Consortium is angry and storms out of the room. The PC’s are on their own until an early breakfast meeting with Antilles.
The group heads out into what passed for the planet?s social life. Nayda tries to teach the farm-boy how to dance, and the groups gets spread out over the night.
Dag will get a call in the very very wee hours from Phin, who shares the ship access codes with him and tells him where he ‘stashed the droid’. He will be whispering the whole time, and will cut off the discussion abruptly. A few minutes later, Dag’s alarm will sound for the meeting.
Very early in the morning (about 3 am) Dag receives a com-call from Phin, who whispers something over the link about ?stashing the droid body? in a specific shipping warehouse and ?creating a diversion?. He gives Dag the access codes for the Knight Errant and his coms cut off. Shortly thereafter, the group is called by the senator?s security crew. The Senator has been attacked. Phin’s blaster is found at the site, tossed in the corner. Phin is missing. Digital recordings show that someone who looked like Phin from the back (the camera?s location), walked up the guards, spoke with them, dropped some sort of gas grenade, then walked into the Senator?s chambers, spoke with an unalarmed Antilles for a few moments, then shot him several times, dropped the blaster and leapt out the window.
There is some indication that the attacker survived the jump with the use of a belt-mounted, one-shot jetpack, used like a sort of parachute. Authorities have searched Phin?s chambers and found papers linking him to the Consortium, which the Consortium hotly denies.
Talks are called off, and the Senator is hospitalized in serious condition (the bacta shortage extends to this planet, and aside from what the party provides and what was in the Senator?s emergency travel store, there is virtually none available).
The group moves to look for the stashed droid body. At the warehouse, they?re attacked by a small group of well-training soldiers. Just after the fight and recovery of the droid body (which has a datachip stuck to it?s chest plate), the group catches a news broadcast that indicates they tried to attack and kill the Consortium diplomatic group (at the same time there were somewhere else entirely, being attacked themselves). Video footage is inconclusive, but does include the right number of light sabers.
The party needs to leave the planet, which proves difficult (especially to get to the ship). They are attacked on the tarmac by an assassin droid disguised as a walking labor droid. The party dispatches the first attacker, but more are coming. Nayda pulls up in a small speeder (with the droid head under her arm) and the party blasts off planet.
The other ships in orbit around the planet can’t seem the Hyperjump, but luckily the Knight Errant doesn’t seem to have that problem. The droid was stashed with a holo-projector chip containing a last minute message from Bail, not to them, but simple notes concerning the droid and what it might mean — he comments that he needs a tech to slice the information, now that all the pieces are together.
Initial slicing of the Droid gets some information — detailing the recent assassination of the entire Black Sun leadership, resulting in major infighting. One of the last entries concerns infighting apparently centered around a fringe-world named ____________, where the local Black Sun contact is listed as a reclusive mountaintop monastery. The logistics analysis on the droid shows that if this particular base is compromised during the civil war, ?certain pharmaceutical supply chains? will be seriously if not permanently disrupted.
(Side note: the Senator arranged for a Hyperspace transceiver to be delivered to the ship. It has yet to be installed, but is much anticipated by the group.)

If I had $1,000,000

Actually, how about this:
You have $100 to spend on RPG’s… for your entire life. What do you buy?
Assume you have no existing RPG library, and include any CCG’s you play.
Big Eyes, Small Mouth Revised 2nd Edition – $16 on ebay, mint.
Star Wars Revised Core Rulebook – $24 on ebay, mint
SpyCraft Espionage Guide d20 – $20 on ebay, mint.
Oriental Adventures d20 – $17 on ebay, mint.
Everything else (this includes Amber (available on eBay for $10 right now), the core d20 SRD, and the beta version of Silver Age Sentinels) is available online in some free incarnation or another — it may not be formatted beautifully or ‘finished’, but if I only had 100 bucks to spend lifetime, it would have to do.
Leaves me twenty-three bucks to buy pizza and soda with.
How about you?

Wish 3: Ideas

From Turn of a Friendly Die:

Discuss three setting ideas or ideas for elements of settings that you got from movies/books/TV/etc. that you have read or seen recently. These do not need to be full-fledged settings, but can be single elements that could be incorporated into existing games.

I tend to get more excited about genres more than settings, but let’s see what I can come up with…
1. Peking, as portrayed in Eight Skilled Gentlemen — a fine book and a series that I highly recommend. The distinct strata of society found in China, circa 630 a.d. is well-portrayed here, and gives you lots of grist for a polyglot city where so many things are going on that no one could possibly keep track of it all.
2. Raymond Chandler’s L.A., as seen through the eyes of Phillip Marlowe. It’s sort of a cross between what you see in L.A. Confidential crossed with the random idiosyncracies/insanity of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. The city is corrupt, the suburbs are worse, and god help you if you leave the city limits. I recommend it highly to anyone doing noir stuff.
3. The hotel that ACNW is hosted at. Duh. Anyone that can’t do something with that place needs help. Example from Strange Weapons:

The place I had been directed to was on the eastern outskirts, a converted farm that might have qualified as a town unto itself during the time of its construction in the first part of the last century — private water tower, brewery, power station, and a number of residence buildings connected in maze-like fashion to become wings of the main house. The entire place had been restored and reopened as a hotel.

The rooms were reasonably large, the beds and other furniture were a mish-mash of styles and eras that matched nothing and fit perfectly. The walls of the entire place were hand-painted with varying levels of skill and included portraits, landscapes, scenes, and disturbing abstracts, any of which might end up replaced or repainted between my visits. Most guest rooms had to share a bath with others on the same floor and there were a grand total of perhaps a dozen phones on the premises, none of which were to be found on a guest?s night stand. There were no televisions, even in the pubs, and the cellular reception was terrible.

It was heaven. I stayed there whenever I was in the area and paid for it personally so that no one at work would ever find out about the place — all my expense reports indicated I stayed with a local friend.

True, but not entirely accurate.