Neel meets Sorcerer

Neel Krishnaswami posts a Sorcerer One-Sheet to The 20′ By 20′ Room. Fully expect it to be brilliant, because it’s Neel.

Sorcerer’s one-sheet style is a really handy template for blog posts. As evidence I offer All Things and Nothing, a Sorcerer game which is Nietzsche by way of David Lynch.

A note to myself for future reference

With regards to running FATE (which I plan to use in the future for at least one if not two or three things):
It’s possible, even likely, to get so used to hit-point-driven combat systems that it might seem as though a fight in FATE was not a “real challenge” if the characters come through it without any marks on their damage tracks. The thing to remember is that FATE really has two damage tracks: the actual damage taken, and the pool of Aspects that one might ‘check off’ during combat to improve results.
A game like d20 has one ‘ablative resource pool’ — hit points — while FATE has two (and possibly even other, smaller pools for specific Extras or what-not), so while it is, of course, relevant to notice damage the characters took, it’s also important to notice how far they had to reach into their Aspects during a fight (or any other conflict, actually).
A lot of checked-off Aspects as a result of a conflict means just as much (if not more) reduced effectiveness during the remainder of a scenario than the damage track (and far more than a partial loss of hit points in d20, which has no mechanical effect at all).

[Sorcerer] Bibliophage, Session 7: Whiteout

We had our seventh session of the Bibliophage Sorcerer story Friday night. The whole thing is detailed here, along with previous session logs.
This was an interesting, but kind of “in-between” session, mostly because so much had happened in the previous session and folks were still processing it.
Right, on with the show.

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Character mix-n-match

Doc’s Blog … Confessions of a Game Addict: Game Dream 3: Is it Me or is it Memorex?

Some people play RPGs to enjoy a viewpoint or way of acting that they just couldn’t do in real life. Others seem to play characters whose motivations are more their own. And some folks do all of the above and everything in between 🙂 What character of yours was most like you “in real life”? Which of your characters is the least like you? Which did you find more fun to play, and why?

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Analyzing the last few sessions

It is something of an irony that the players in my d20 game have been so interested and involved and generally pleased with the last couple sessions that have followed the dungeon-crawl-that-wouldn’t-end. Having well and truly poisoned the well with regards to combat (six months of nothing but pretty much put paid to that need for awhile), I’ve been digging in with what can best be described as Bangs for each of the characters (there are about 3 too many players for this to be wholly effective, but it’s basically working), and we haven’t rolled more than a handful of dice per session in that time.
It’ll never last — I haven’t got the stamina to make things up on the fly in d20 forever and the system works against anything of the kind, really — but right now we’re doing some interesting things and I’ve gotten folks to a point where they’ll be willing to put their characters away pretty soon and call the whole thing good.
After that, I’m looking forward to trying out HeroQuest and some other systems — still a little surprised at some of the resistance to anything-but-d20 that I keep running into, but them’s the breaks. I have to acknowledge that I run games better when the system doesn’t fight more freeform story construction and try to find a system that let’s me run a better game in the genre that both I and the players find interesting.

Unknown Armies meets Firefly

This weekend, I had a chance to play-test a Firefly game session using a stripped-down version of Unknown Armies 2nd edition. (Details on chargen are over here, but basically I just stripped magic out entirely and used the street-level campaign.)
Anyway, the game went reasonably well (though, damnably, we didn’t get a chance to finish up what should have been a one-shot session, due to interruptions) and the system seemed to work pretty well. There are, however a few tweaks I would make (or have already made) to the chargen.

  • More skill points. Using the ‘street level’ points for stats seemed to give scores that felt realistic and accurate for the characters (both those from the show that I was using to ‘calibrate’ the system and those that the players made up — however, using the street-levels for available skill points meant there just weren’t enough to go around and really flesh out the characters. We were using 15 bonus skill points — I think that in the future, I’m going to go with the same number of Stat Points, but change the ‘extra’ skill points to somewhere around 70 to 100. (Basically, I think the characters we see in Firefly have Stats that fit Street-level, but I don’t generally feel like I’m doing justice to their skills.
  • Passions can be invoked multiple times in a session instead of once-per-passion. This is the thing that will let a player get those cinematic moments when they need them — it also reemphasizes the Firefly conceit that a person is more effective when they really care. Mal’s a decent shot with a pistol, but when you’ve betrayed him and you’re threatening one of his crew, at that moment he can put a bullet in your brain from twenty feet away while at a brisk walk, without aiming. Cool.

I’m also pondering using Conflict- instead of task-resolution. Rather than rolling for each little task in the middle of combat or major conflict, I’d move to a Sorcerer/Fate type of resolution where a roll represents a short-ish series of related actions. Rewrites to optional skills like Fast Draw might be necessary, but it would still probably be quite viable.
We’ll see. I’ve been wanting to mess around with this system for Firefly for awhile now and I was glad to give it a whirl… I think it offers a lot of features that emphasize the parts of the show and characters that deserve emphasis — it’s not perfect by any means, but there’s some really good stuff there.
That said, I’m looking forward to a chance to try out Dust Devils in the ‘verse as well.

Sorcerer, Grimm Therapy, group 2

The DnD game looked to be short a couple of players on Friday, so we decided to try something else. I ran a session of the “Grade School” sorcerers set up, as seen in the Grimm Therapy section of RandomWiki. (The first time I swapped in Sorcerer for the DnD game we did Clicking Sands — this might have been the perfect time to get back to the story, except that it wasn’t the same group of players that could make it this time. Someday… someday…)

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Another category of annoying GM introduces the term Pixelbitching

I call it the ‘Clickable Pixel’ style of GMing, after various computer games. Basically, you’re in this Myst-like free environment, looking for the ‘clue’ that helps you free the next bit of drama or the next area of the game … which turns out to be a completely mundane and unobtrusive object approximately 5 pixels across.

For instance, in the X-Files computer game, there’s a warehouse. In the warehouse are ‘clues’. One of these ‘clues’ is a bullet lodged into a post. The only view of the bullet is exactly 2×2 pixels.

An in-game example:

Con games: Sometimes you can see there’s plot going on over the fence, you just can’t find the pixel to click on. Or, indeed the correct NPC. Con games where there are 12 NPCs to talk to and you end up having to talk to all 12 of them before you stumble onto the right one. Or worse, you NEVER talk to the right one, and you end up staring at the plot-fence the whole game.

Certainly my experience in this regard has been mostly at cons, and mostly with particularly uninspired gming of stuff written by other people for Living campaigns. It was somewhere in that period that I developed the “ask a lot of questions around town, then go back to the Inn and wait to be attacked in the night, then loot the bodies for clues” method of investigation. 9-of-10 success rate, that.

Sorcerer and the non-optimal character sheets

[I promise the actual play from Friday night is on the way. I’ve got it about half-written, I swear.]
I mentioned this parenthetically in the previous post but it bears repeating (and adding to my SorcererWiki, actually): one big difference between Sorcerer and pretty much every other game on the market (at least every game I’ve ever encountered) is the character sheet.
To be more specific, in almost any game the sheet is meant to express your character at their current optimal functionality; generally, in-game modifiers pull down (lowering stats, scores, skills, or removing equipment or spells or whatever) — the sheet is the top end — things just get worse from there. This seems so obvious that it hardly needs to be noted… except that Sorcerer doesn’t do it that way.
What you get on a Sorcerer sheet is the character when they’re not really trying too hard.
The assumption that the character-on-the-sheet is the “optimal” version (and failure on the part of the GM to correct this assumption *coff*myfirstgame*coff*) is erroneous and is usually why players fail to capitalize on the bonuses that come from ‘contextual play’: most folks with experience in other games will look at the sheet and think “I have a Will of 5,” when it is more accurate to say “If I don’t really put much work into it, my Will is 5. If I’m really phoning it in, it’s probably more like a 4, and if I’m truly firing on all cylinders as a player, my Will is a 6, 7, maybe even 8 or more.
It’s also worth noting that it’s the players actions during play (bonuses for tactics, cool scene setting, et cetera) that make the character more effective, not usually the character’s actions (such as using a ‘boost’ ability or whatever). In the long term at any rate the former method of enhancement is more more reliable than the latter.
The game more than supports this kind of play; it really requires it in order to do well and will kick your ass otherwise. Some of the differences I’ve noticed in play between the first game I ran and some of the later stuff is the simple fact that I’ve eventually started to point this feature out to people before the game starts.

FATE and the El Dorado game

One of the questions I’ve been trying to answer when I look over a new game is “What do I want out of the game?” This is a key question, because the answer I come up with is also going to be the answer to “What ‘thing’ do I want the system to be able to do as a central function?”
To reverse engineer this, so I can evaluate the system in those terms, the opposing question ask about a game system is “What does this game facilitate as a central or key mechanic that interests me? What kind of game does that create? Does that interest me?”
You can rephrase the question as “What is special about the system that simply couldn’t be done in your generic-game-of-choice (GURPS, D20, BESM, FUDGE, et cetera) without rewriting the whole thing?”

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Sorcerer, Session Six, The Big Chill

We had our sixth session of the Bibliophage Sorcerer story Friday night. The whole thing is detailed here, along with previous session logs.
This was an interesting session, mostly because everyone was getting hammered with some relatively urgent priorities and were basically trapped in a small(ish) area with one another. That they don’t really get along just made it more interesting.
Right, on with the show.

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Which parts are you?

Lumpley, via the Forge

I’ve got a theory.
There’s Setting, System, Character, Situation and Color, right? I think that you can start a game as soon as you’ve nailed down three of the five. That means that a game text must provide at least three of the five to be a whole game. But I really don’t think it matters which three.
You can write a game that provides Character, Situation and Color but leaves Setting and System to be set up by the group, if you want. In fact kill puppies for satan is like that.
Or you could write a game like Sorcerer, providing System, Character and Situation and leaving Setting and Color to the group.
Ars Magica provides Setting, Character and Color, with maybe some Situation too, but not much System at all. (Call me on that, I dare you.) All the WoD games are probably about the same, there.
Obviously, the thicker your game the more you can provide.

Hmm. A game the whole geek family can play:
* Trollbabe: Color (disguised as setting), Situation and character.
* Gods and Monsters: Character, Situation and Color. (And more system than Trollbabe at least.)
* FATE: System, Character. Players must add/select one or more of Setting, Situation and Color.
* Nobilis: Setting, Situation and Color (very little of the actual character is apparent in the stats — there’s more even in d20, where at least skill-point selection reveals preferences and interests.)
* Amber: Setting, Situation and Color (ditto Nobilis, except it has even less system)
* D20: System, Character. Add setting, situation, and color (usually as expressed within skills/feats) to taste.
Hmm… thinking of stuff like Hero and Gurps and whatnot, it seems like most of ‘generic’ systems only have two-of-five, with splatbooks or player input to provide one or more of the other elements.

That didn’t take long

Lee couldn’t make the Nobilis game tonight, so Randy, De, Jackie and I started what will be a short “Grade School Sorcerers” riff.
Notes to follow regarding character generation, opening kickers, and some observations on playing kids in a game that’s designed to create people in dysfunctional relationships, but for now, you can check out the wiki page for Grimm Therapy, which has the PCs, their demons, a fun little customized character sheet, and the One Sheet that describes the game’s customized Humanity and Descriptors.
Update: Here’s the rest.

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Grade School Sorcerers

I’m gonna run this. Brace yourselves.

You know that little boy sleeping in other bed isn’t really your brother. Ever since that game of hide and seek on your birthday last week, well… he’s been different. He got locked in the closet by accident, and by the time Mom got him out, little Joey wasn’t little Joey anymore. Sure, the kid snoring softly over there looks like Joey. Your mom can’t tell the difference, but… you know. You’re not even sure he’s a kid at all- ‘least not like you. He always eats everything on his plate, and brushes his teeth before bed. He even cleaned up the room first. Mom gave him an extra cookie in his lunch yesterday too. But scariest of all, Spot won’t come near him. Spot loves Joey.

G/N/S translated into my own words, using examples

Once upon a time (about six months ago), I stumbled on some pretty good games via reviews on and 20×20 room. The first of these was My Life With Master, which was so different in a lot of ways from what I tended to think of as a role-playing game that I wasn’t even sure if it really was a roleplaying game.
It was, however, cool as hell. That I knew.
Reading through the thing and the notes in the back led me to some sites I’d been to before, off and on, but never really delved into too much — Momento-Mori and the number of games available for download there (notably InSpectres, which was a real mind-blowing ‘investigation’ game), and the Forge.
Stuff on the Forge led me to reading up on quite a number of other games whose goals all seemed to be pretty novel and very interesting to me as a GM and even moreso as a player: Sorcerer, Urge, Trollbabe, Dust Devils, Donjon, Paladin, Universalis, et cetera.
These were, I found out, products of folks working on building “Narrativist” games, a style (dare I say “movement”) of games built not (usually) to test out new game mechanics or (necessarily) to create an incredibly detailed setting — but to explore a character dealing with conflict.
“Umm… dude… that’s like… every RPG… ever?”
Well, that’s not to say that other games… older games… didn’t give you a session or a campaign where you got to deal with character conflict. Most every game out there does… that’s sort of the point.
What the narrativist guys were doing was talking about the Literary definition of conflict — that means “a question is posed within the story (overtly or covertly), and the protagonist answers that question through his or her actions.”
So: A ballroom full of hobgoblins that you have to get through to save the princess is not a conflict in these terms; it’s a challenge (which those Forge guys then associated with “Gamist” styles of player).
A conflict by this definition would be something like: “You’ve been given great power. How will that change you?”
The players then play the game, and their characters’ actions define their answers.
Peter Parker’s actions say: Great Power means I must now be responsible.
Bruce Banner’s actions say: Great Power exposes my greatest faults.
Logan’s actions say: Great Power just raises more questions for me.
Or whatever.
What I’m going to do below is talk about three styles of play that the folks on the Forge use when talking about game group dynamics, and use examples of both Games and Example Moments from Actual Play to illustrate what I think each style means in the real world.
I don’t know if any of this will be useful to anyone but me — that’s okay, since it’s mostly just me working on figuring it out.

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I lasted a whole week without spitting out any G/N/S terminology…

Hmm. I think I’m going to go a bit longer, despite someone handing me (another) nice short definition for the three styles of play today.
It’s not the most accurate description, exactly — I might put it in my own words later — but it works. For what it’s worth the whole thing has really helped me (personally) understand why some of the people I play with react to in-game stuff the way they do. Hell, it helps me understand my own enjoyment (or lack) of a game session.
If nothing else, it made me notice when I’m sitting with a group of six people who think they’re all there to play the same game and three want to play game A and two want to play game C and one wants to play game B, and the issues that might come out of that. That’s Result — it makes me a better GM — maybe even a better player (arguable).

Sorcerer, Session Five (Bibliophage): Complex Conflict

We had our fifth session of Sorcerer last night. The whole campaign thing is detailed here, along with previous session logs.
This was a really interesting and challenging session — there was one metric assload of combat (something like six or seven different fights spread out in one long stretch of room-to-room warfare). There were a lot of interesting variables (Shannon was already a bit hurt, and no one in the reasonably well-armed group was particularly skilled at using guns on anything other than a firing range), and tons of currency exchange going on.
On with the show:

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