30 June 2011

Female Armor Sucks

I found this amusing.

28 June 2011

Wouldn't it be wonderful if all things were this bad?

Background, part 1: I used to be a huge fan of internet sports columnist Bill Simmons.  I am a sports fan, particularly college football and professional baseball, and I found Simmon's mash-up of popular culture and sports funny and occasionally insightful.  He even almost got me to care about the NBA.  My interest has waned a bit (too much NBA, the pop-culture shtick sometimes became sophomoric), but recently picked back up considerably with Simmon's launch of Grantland.  His new ESPN affiliated website talks about sports and pop culture, occasionally at the same time.

Background, part 2: I occasionally enjoy reading Chuck Klosterman.  He knows a lot about rock music and is often funny.  But, like many late-30-something writers who embrace pop culture, he can seem like he's trying to hard sometimes. Many of the essays in Sex, Drugs and Coco Puffs are great, but there are more than a few where I picture Klosterman giving himself a 'wow, I'm cool!" pat on the back after writing them.  Anyway, Klosterman now writes for Grantland.

Klosterman's recent column is a "second by second" analysis of Led Zeppelin's "In the Evening".  Sure, parts of it are smarmy, but in it Klosterman is often funny and displays a considerable amount of music knowledge.  Now, read or scroll down to the last paragraph of the Klosterman piece.

I was particularly struck by this part:

For any piece of art, this is a compliment of the highest order — whenever something's nonessential elements are still compelling enough to generate new meanings for swathes of creative people who have yet to be born, you're totally riding the dog. Details that have been lost to social memory can still thrive within the context of modern products, even if no one recalls who made them up or what deserves the credit; while we're always predisposed to credit the progenitors of certain ideas, it's those who normalize the concepts that define what our social experience is. 
Then there is the wonderful last line:
This is Led Zeppelin when they sucked. And wouldn't it be wonderful if all things were this bad?
I think there's something about gaming in there, particularly about the OSR.  But it's late in the day and I am pretty tired, so I can't quite put my finger on it.  I'll take a stab at some points, though:

  • You can read the above as, say looking backwards at Appendix N and other material circa D&D 1978 OR you can read it as contemporary commercial geekdom looking back at D&D.
  • What "normalized" the concepts that define our social experience of D&D?  Moldvay?  Certainly it was Mentzer for me. . .
  • Is crappy D&D still better than most other things?  You may hate 4th Edition, but is playing 4th Edition still better than other forms of entertainment?
Maybe I'll be able to flesh this out a bit later, assuming my children let me sleep for more than two hours at a stretch tonight.

27 June 2011

Curious George Escapes the Nazis

I haven't written any of my Weird War 2 profiles in awhile, but back in May, the family and I made a detour on a family trip to Norfolk, Virginia and the Chrysler Museum's hosting of "Curious George Saves the Day", and exhibition of original artwork and memorabelia of H.A. and Margaret Rey.  The exhibit was great; I had no idea about the interesting lives of the Rey's, including a cross-country bycyle trek to escape the Nazi occupation of Paris.  Thus. . .

They Rey's, H.A. and Margaret, are best known as the creators of Curious George.  All told, they published seven Curious George books, not counting the monkey's orginial appearance in Cecily G. and the Nine Monkeys.  Although the families of the two were acquainted in Hamburrg, Germany, they met and were married in Brazil.  There, H.A. Rey was selling bathtubs and sinks along the Amazon.  They headed for Paris in 1936.  There, they soon became concerned about the Nazi threat, as both were Jews.  In 1940, as the Germans marched on paris, Hans hastily cobbled together two bicycles from spare parts; the two rode from the city two days before the Germans entered.  Their flight had them ride 75 miles in three days, take a train to Lisbon, then sail back to Brazil, then onto New York.  Curious George was published in 1941, with six more books to follow.  Rey also published a new cartoon-ish guide to the constelations in 1952 titled The Stars: A New Way to See Them.

For a Wierd War 2 game, this is all too good to pass up.  The PC's may be called upon to help the Reys escape Paris.  Why?  During his time in the Amazon, Hans Rey undoubtedly stumbled upon some secret in the rain forest.  Perhaps it was a secret Nazi hideout (a staging area for Nazi space opperations!) or an ancient astrological clock.  They Rey's didn't know what to make of it at first, but their art backgroud and collaboration led them to unlocking the secret several years later in France.  They immediately became targets for the Abwehr and escaped, brought to the U.S., where their knowledge of crypto-astronomy became central to the covert war effort.

24 June 2011

What else is Awesome?

People like Greg Christopher who make things like this:

Thanks so much, Greg!

23 June 2011

Best Use of Awesome Point Ever?

I intended to post a full write up of the happenings in our Labryinth Lord campaign today, but a short (and amusing) segment will  have to suffice.

I'm using the moathouse castle and dungeon from The Village of Hommlet, with some elements changed to suit our ongoing game.  The party defeated a group of hobgoblins taking up residence on the surface level, but two of the things had fled into the dungeon.  The party opted not to pursue right away.  I rolled for the hobgoblins who, failing the roll, ran afoul of the green slime waiting at the bottom of the stairs.  The party did not hear the hobgoblin screams as the creatures were slowly digested from the outside-in.

After a bit, the party was ready for the dungeon and noticed the slime-covered remains of the hobgoblins at the bottom of the stairs.  What they did not know was how to deal with green slime.  Then, this exchange happened:

Pithia's Player: "It says we can use an Awesome Point to find a small item close at hand."
Me: "Yep"
Pithia: "I spend an Awesome Point to find a pamphlet about green slime."
Me: ". . . Awesome!"

Beehive Handknits for Men 01
Did you know that 8 out of 10 dungeons have a problem with slime?
We then decided the pamphlet looked like they would hand out in the high school guidance office in the 1950's, complete with smiling father in a grey suit and pearled and aproned mom.  The cover would feature a puddle of slime, with dad looking stern and mom's hand covering a mouth that had gone "O" with distaste.  Inside, little John and Suzie would be taking cover under a school desk while slime dripped down from the ceiling   The pamphlet detailed the habits of slime and how to get rid of it (I read the monster's description).  Also, the presence of slime was blamed on Communists and beatniks.

22 June 2011

Julie Andrews Stomps Nazis

You know, it's hard to explain how clicking on links leads you to something awesome, but I'll try.

Checking my RSS feeds while eating some leftover chicken parm (thanks to the wife for making it), had me catching up with Rob Lang's Free RPG Blog, specifically this post about the 24-hour movie mash-up RPG contest run by 1000 Monkeys, 1000 Typewriters. Wow -- all of the mash ups sound interesting, but there are two I really want to check out.  All the Kings Men is a mash up of Apocalypse Now and Robin Hood, where you play some of the Sherrif's men in a descent into the heart of Sherwood.  Creepy!  And then there is The Droog Family Songbook, a mash up of The Sound of Music and Clockwork Orange.  Yes, The Sound of Music and Clockwork Orange.  Just.  Wow.

The Droog Family Songbook's designer, Nathan Russell, runs Peril Planet and has many other games.  Two that look cool are The Beast of Limfjord -- an RPG inspired by Beowulf and Norse sagas-- and Come With Me If You Want To Live -- a board game of saving humanity from the apocalypse.

So many fun-looking games out there!

21 June 2011

Wallwisher vs. Corkboard

A few months ago, Risus Monkey turned me on to Corkboard.  I haven't used it for gaming yet, but have been using it to keep track of some research notes on a book I am reading.  Today I discovered Wallwisher.  It's a lot like Corkboard, except you can customize the look of the board and can easily post photos, audio, or video (though when I posted a link to a YouTube video it didn't work).  There's a character limit (160) on the Wallwisher notes, which gives Corkboard a big edge in my book, but Wallwisher does have more multimedia posting options.  It also lets you customize the web address of your board, unlike Corkboard.

Mentzer Reflections, Part 7 "Into the Caves"

Fair warning -- what follows contains some vivid descriptions of intense situations.  Things may get pretty crazy, folks, so be warned.  If you're squamish, you may want to skip this one. ;)

Armed with his new plate mail, Ragnar ventures into the caves outside of town in an effort to avenge the death of Aleena and collect some treasure.  It did not go well.  Apparently, I was better at this game when I was 12.

The next section of the Basic Player's Manual is a choose-your-own adventure section, where you make choices which send you to various numbered paragraphs.  I decided that Ragnar, being on his own and still stinging from his recent loss, took a cautious approach.  He listened in the first room and heard squeeking.  He searched the first room and found a note: "RATS EAST! GOBLINS NORTH! BEWARE WEST!"  Figuring he could take care of some rats, he went east.  He tried to frighten the rats away, but still had to fight two of them.  No problem.  Collecting some copper and silver pieces from the rats, he ventured into a strange room where a giant mouth posed him a riddle which, if answered successfully, would double his treasure.  What's next in the sequence: O-T-T-F-F-S-S?

I don't want to spoil it for you by giving away the answer.  Let's just say a Ph.D. is good for something, because I got it right and Ragnar got richer.  He then wandered into the goblin chambers where, it a move I will always regret, he opted to talk to the goblins.  One ran away, while the other stayed to chat.  Soon, though, Ragnar "got the feeling the goblin doesn't like you".  Eff that, goblin!  So Ragnar attacked, only to be confronted by the other goblin and his snide goblin buddy coming back from another chamber.  Ragnar vs. three goblins!  He held is own, getting whacked early on for 3 points of damage (he has 8 and lost one to the rats), but then killing two of the goblins.  That last one, though -- that snide bastard who acted all nice to me even though he secretly hated Ragar -- that one jabbed me with his crappy rusty sword, did 5 points of damage, and laughed as Ragnar slumped to the floor, crimson blood spilling on clawed goblin feet. . .

Once I picked my head up from the table and dried my eyes, I thought about this section as an exercise in how to play the game.  I think it reveals a lot about how to play.  It's a good basic tutorial, but it also shows what's rewarded and expected.  Running away was always an option, one that Ragnar never used (because I thought I could take three goblins!).  Preparation was rewarded, as I gained knowledge about future challenges when I stopped to listen or search.  There was also the interesting riddle room, showing  that those sorts of things are a big part of the game.  That room is presented as is -- there's no backstory, no narrative justification for the mouth, riddle, or strange magic that doubles or steals your treasure, no stat block that says what sort of spells went into the crafting of the mouth -- it's just there.

I mapped what bit of the dungeon Ragnar made it through.  I'll try to scan it and post it, so everyone remembers what happened there.  RIP, Ragnar.

20 June 2011

Game of Thrones: Series Thoughts

I stopped trying to post regular recaps and thoughts on individual Game of Thrones episodes largely because there were so many other excellent ones out there.  I didn't know what else I could contribute, given what else was being said.  Some of my favorites are at Gestalt Mash, which also has a very nice series of posts where a veteran GoT reader and a newbie trade chapter-by-chapter reviews.  I am also surprised at how much mainstream press the series is getting, but that shows I just live in my own little geeky cave; it's a giant budget HBO series with big stars, of course it's going to get mainstream press.

I couldn't let the series finish, however, without some small comment.  Although I have some small quibbles with some of the pacing and structure (this will be the last time I mention Lost-style character centered episodes), I really, really liked the series.  It was well done.  It looked excellent.  And the acting was, by and large, wonderful.  The show actually deepened my interest in a few characters that, just in my readings, I hadn't cared for, such as:

  • Sansa -- I always thought Sansa was a spoiled, naive girl who, well, sucked.  Her romantic naivete got others in trouble (Ned!) and became extraordinarily annoying for this reader.  On the show, however, I appreciated her situation a bit more, especially in the final episode.  Joffrey is such a little monster that it's hard not to have some empathy for Sansa when her dreams of queenhood turn out all wrong.  The look on Sansa's face as she glanced from Joffrey, to the head of her father on the wall, then to the stones beneath the bridge, weighing the choice between jumping herself and shoving the king, was enough to make me like her a little more.
  • Robert -- Mark Addy did such a great job here.  I gained a lot more understanding and a little more sympathy for Robert as a result of the show.  Robert is that guy from college -- your loud, drunken friend who never really grew out of all the partying, whom you still try to be friends with based on a shared past, despite his destructive behavior.
The show has also gotten me thinking about gaming in a similar setting again.  Not necessarily Westeros itself, though I played Green Ronin's A Song of Ice and Fire RPG at North Carolina Game Day a few years ago and had a great time, but a game where killing monsters and finding treasure wasn't the main focus.  No, this would be something where relationships and politics and social contests were just as important as combat.  I've never really played or run a game like that, but it seems like it could be a lot of work and require the right sort of players.

17 June 2011

Mentzer Reflections, Part 6: "Town Business" & "Battles"

Wow, I can't believe it's  been two months since my last post about the Mentzer Red Box.  My apologies for the gap; I suppose it was principally caused by the choose-your-own-adventure style of the next part of the Player's Manual.  I guess I never felt like I had the time to play through it with my fighter Ragnar.  But I am committed to this project, so let it continue!

You can read the earlier parts: ProloguePart 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5.

The next section of the Player's Manual is a solo adventure, but before you get to the "go east?  turn to number 34!" section of things, there are two parts designed to get you further aquainted with important aspects of the game.

Part one is "Town Buiness" which is really all about shopping for new armor.  It's a simple narrative, with no choices involved for your character.  You visit the town blacksmith.  He tells you about plate mail.  You trade in your chain mail and then haggle with him, eventually paying only 30 gp for a new suit of plate mail!  You then have to wait around town for a few days for the plate mail before heading out to the caves on the edge of town for more adventure.

I thought the "Town Business" section was interesting because of the implied setting elements it presents.  First, your fighter knows the blacksmith already.  He remembers you from your boyhood, stealing apples from the tree in his yard.  This really emphasizes the local nature of adventuring -- you start in your hometown where you know everyone -- as well as the "from humble beginnings" trope.  You're not some special warrior chosen by the gods for a great destiny.  You're a young guy who'd rather hunt for forgotten gold than get a real job.  The fact that shopping is also the first step in the solo adventure also reinforces the resource management aspect of the game.  You use gold to upgrade your equipment, but such upgrades are also a trade off.  The heaviness of the plate mail is mentioned several times in the section, but it's supposedly worth it because of the better protection.

The next section is called "Battles".  It gives the basic rules for combat, slightly elevating the complexity of the rules from the very basic presentation of them in the first solo adventure.  We learn that we actually should role for damage instead of all hits doing 1 point automatically.  We only roll a d6 for damage, but monsters may roll other types of dice.

As somewhat of an aside, let me say how liberating I find non-variable weapon damage.  All weapons do d6 damage in my current game.  One player keeps narrating complex two-handed attacks, which is awesome, but non-variable damage keeps me from having to worry about two handed weapon penalties or game balance.

Anyway, there in also a section on "getting killed" in the "Battles" section.  I think it's interesting that it's there.  That indicates that getting killed is a fairly normal part of the game.  As the text says, getting killed "is the end of the adventure. But it's not the end of the game!"  This section also had a few paragraphs on mapping (One square equals 10 feet, by the way, in Mentzer).  I had a nice chuckle at the line "If you don't make a map as you go, you will probably get confused."  So true, so true.

Next time, Ragnar ventures into the caves.  And we won't have to wait two months.  I promise!

16 June 2011

Action Points in Labyrinth Lord

I've been fiddling with a way to incorporate Awesome Points (from Old School Hack) into my Labyrinth Lord game.  Here's what I've come up with:

The Stack and The Bowl stay the same.  I'll put in 2.5 times the number of players worth of awesome points into The Bowl at the beginning of each session.  Players should still award one another Awesome Points from The Bowl for doing Awesome things.  The GM can award Awesome points directly to an individual player from The Stack.

Here, though, I need to make some adjustments, because some of those automatic GM Awesome point awards (like surviving a fight with no armor) make a little less sense in Labyrinth Lord.

The GM still adds points to The Bowl when he wants to bend the narrative in a way that disadvantages the players.  This is a little harder to do in Labyrinth Lord, at least with low level characters.  I can't just add damage inflicted by  monsters, because then the odds of those monsters just killing everyone goes way up.  Although maybe that's mitigated by . . .

Some ways you might end up spending your awesome points:

It costs one point to:
Adding 1d6 to an attack roll
Have something handy nearby or within reach
Add a cool effect to an attack roll

It costs two points to:
Add 1d6 to a damage roll
Add 1d6 to a saving throw roll
Create an NPC you have a relationship with

It costs three points to:
Reuse a first level spell that's already been cast
Heal 1d4 points of damage

I am not sure about all of this.  Thoughts?

14 June 2011

Inspiration -- Sailing to Sarantium

A few days ago I wrapped up Sailing to Sarantium by Guy Gavriel Kay.  As I have mentioned before, I am a big Kay fan, and Sailing is one of his better efforts.  Rather than simply review the book, I'll try to give some reasons why I think gamers should read Kay and Sailing to Sarantium in particular, even though they are not typical fantasy fare and, onstensibly, seem as if won't translate well to gaming.

1.  Character -- Kay's protagonists are often artists of some sort.  The main character in Sailing is Crispin, a mosaisist who is summoned to the great city of Sarantium to help design the mosaic for the dome of the great sanctuary.  Kay paints him, and the supporting characters as well, with complex colors.  The depth of character can serve as inspiration itself, or manerisms and backgrounds can be lifted and grafted onto PC's or NPC's.  Crispin, for example, is a religious man who is still getting over the death of his family from the plague.  He's also quick-witted and foul-mouthed.  Both of the later were lifed for my recent NPC of Revus, while the former reminds me to try and avoid single things (death of a family, desire for gold) to define characters.

2.  Setting -- Sarantium is a low-fantasy Byzantium.  Almost all of Kay's works take place in a fantasy version of the Mediteranean, with alternate takes on the (fallen) Roman empire, medieval Spain, Greece, and Arabia.  One book (the Last Light of the Sun) extends the world north by giving us analogs of Scandinavia, England, Wales, Ireland, and France.  I have a lot of fun just trying to figure out what real world nation or culture inspired Kay's version.  Crispin is Rhodian (or Roman/Italian) but lives in a kingdom ruled by the Antae -- a blond haired people who helped bring about the fall of Rhodia.  So they are a Germanic people, who now rule over what we would say is Northern Italy.  There are no maps in Sailing, which bummed me out a little, mainly because I like maps.  Regardless, I think Kay's work is an excellent example of how to fantiasize real-world history and culture without using the polythestic religious method of Thor versus Zeus to do it.  Speaking of Thor. . .

3.  Religion -- Kay shows a GM a way to do monotheism that would still alow for some signficant variety in clerics.  Again, it mirrors real-world religions while being different enoungh to be interesting and (I guess) inofensive.  The dominant religion in Sarantium is Jaddism, worshiping Jad, God of the Sun.  There are significant paralells between the Church of Jad and the Roman/Byzantine Catholic church, including a "son" of Jad that some regard as a heresy and some regard as an essential component of the faith.  There are also the Kindath, a scattered people who worship the two moons and paralell the Jews.  While not mentioned in Sailing, there are also the Asherites -- desert dwelling people who worship the stars.  Given their cultural background and religious practices, there is clearly an Islamic paralell happening there.  So, you have the three great monotheistic faiths represented in a fantasy world in a way that's familiar yet different.  Sailing also adds another layer to the world's religion, by giving us a glimpse into the pagan practices of the pre-Jaddite cultures that are still carried on in corners of the Empire.  Human sacrifice on a Day of the Dead, totemic animals, dark forests inhabited by spirits -- that's there too.

4.  Magic -- Magic is present in Kay's works, but it's of the subtle and mysterious variety.  In Sailing, Crispin meets an alchemist who has mechanical birds that talk and have personalities.  The chariot racers (hey, did I mention there's chariot racing.  It's awesome!) buy wards against spells.  Chieromancers are repeatedly mentioned, but we never get to meet one or really find out what they can do.  Interestingly, magic is also somewhat normal.  No one is out to burn the known alchemist who lives on the edge of town and everyone in Sarantium seems to buy wards and charms to increase their favorite charioteer's chances of winning the big race.  I guess the best way to put it is magic is mysterious, but not dark (well, most of the time anyway).

5.  Dialogue and intrique -- There's a chapter in Sailing where Crispin is presented to the Emperor.  What follows is the best example of courtly intrigue through dialogue that I've ever read.  Through Crispin's eyes, we see the power dynamics of the court played out through how the nobles and Emperor interact, with Crispin joining in.  I loved this chapter and found myself wishing I could replicate similar dynamics in a game.  I don't know how I could, however, as I'm simply not that verbally nimble.  Even if I found players that were interested and able, I doubt I could keep up.

I think it's obvious that I liked the book.  I'd love to run a game set in Kay's world one day.  Although it's not swords and sorcery by any means, Kay is prominent in my own Appendix N.

13 June 2011

On the verge of incoherence

It's Monday afternoon and I'm staring at the computer, finding it difficult to focus and get anything productive done  -- not work, not gaming, not even a coherent blog post.  I've been battling this for a week or so now, this lethargy.  It's fairly problematic, because June needs to be a productive month for me, given what we have planned for July.

The cause doesn't matter so much; what matters is I change it.  But I think some of it has to do with trying to find a new rhythm.  As an academic, my life has largely been dictated by the fall/spring/summer cycle of the academic year, with the summer being a lull in both workload and productivity.  That was fine, really, as I am the sort of person who needs a certain level of eustress to really get things going.  But with the recent promotion also comes a move to a 12 month calendar of work, laid on top of the traditional academic calendar.  I can't just not come into the office because I don't feel like it.  That, I think, is more of a significant change for me than I realized.

I hope I am not coming across as whining here.  I am just trying to understand the current glaze that seems to be coating my brain.

09 June 2011

Who is this guy?

We had a fun game session last night, even if two players were not able to make it and we started late.  The gist of the adventure was simple.  The Nameless cleric had been bitten by rats and contracted a disease last session, so she needed to be taken to the city of Weyland to be properly cured.  The party chose the longer but ostensibly safer route along the road, rather than head cross-country and close to some monster-infested ruins.  En route they got very wet (it rained the whole way), fought some small bands of orcs and hobgoblins, and encountered the drunken giant from my random encounter table, which they killed.

As the game unfolded, I decided they needed to encounter someone on the road that wasn't some sort of obvious monster.  I came up with the idea of a man cursing vehemently at his wagon that was stuck in the mud and thus Revus was born.

As is usual for me, my winging-it roleplaying got way ahead of my overall adventure planning and NPC plotting.  Which is where you come in.  Who is Revus and what does he want?  Help me out!

Here's what we know, due to me pulling stuff out of my butt, stellar improvising during last night's game:

  • Revus is a foul-mouthed man, capable of launching forth an impressive and very creative stream of invective at anyone and anything.  This is interesting considering. . .
  • Revus is a cleric, who openly converses with his god, typically in a "Why did you do this to me?" tone of wry amusement and put-upon tolerance.
  • Revus is physically capable.  He has a two handed mace and is broad-shoudered.
  • Revus is journeying to Weyland to visit the city's Patriarch.  He is obviously not happy about this, nor does he have a high opinion of said Patriarch or Weyland in general.  The phrase "maggot-riddled dung heap of waste left by a dying manticore" was uttered several times, though it was not clear if he was referring to the city or the Patriarch.
  • Although we do not know his origin, he has journeyed hundreds of miles through monster-infested territory.  By himself.  On a donkey-cart full of boxes and barrels of unknown contents.
  • He's not too sure about the Nameless Cleric.  He's not hostile to her, but has given her disapproving glances.
So, who is this guy?  What church does he belong to?  Who is his God?  How has he made it through the wilderness alone?  What's in his cart?  I initially described him as sort of like Sean Connery in the Name of the Rose, but with a sailor's mouth.  To which a player replied "so like Sean Connery in SNL Jeopardy?"  which works pretty well.

"Suck it, Trebek!"

08 June 2011

Weyland and Environs Map

I created this map today on my lunch break using Hexographer.  It's the region of my current Labyrinth Lord campaign, with the small region detailed in Knowledge Illuminates occupying the bottom right corner. (See the "Lascon Thickets")?

Somewhere in those mountains is a ruined city and a megadungeon.  I am just not sure where yet.

07 June 2011

Why System Matters and Gamer ADD

A Paladin in Citadel's post today about Why System Matters is just spot-on.  It captures what I have been thinking very succinctly and clearly.  Excellent work!

The last paragraph in particular stuck a chord.  I think Paladin is right -- that the quest for the One True System is futile, because no system is ever going to adequately capture all those competing demands he mentions.  Add to that something he doesn't mention -- genre emulation (1) -- and I think he makes a convincing argument that systems are tools and that some necessarily are better suited for some jobs rather than others.  I also concur that seeing systems this way is a blessing.  It takes the pressure off one thing to be everything.  And it reminds us that if system X isn't working out for you, then Y might.  You may just need to be clearer about what sort of job you want your system to do.

Here's where the systems as tools argument (2) gets tricky.  It's much easier to see that the hammer isn't going to work very well for painting, mainly because we have a good, shared idea about what painting is and what tools are necessary to paint well.  We are clear about what tools are needed to paint a wall, because we have a pretty good idea about the desired outcome -- our wall will be a new color.  I think what's tricky about systems as tools is that desired outcome can be widely varied among individuals within a gaming group and, painfully enough, even within an individual.  That individual variance can come both from daily mood due to circumstance (when the hard day at work makes you just want to go Kill Things and Take Their Stuff and not hatch long term political plots or worry about character nuance) and the dreaded Gamer ADD (when you just get tired of fantasy and want to run a horror game, but no one else seems to buy into it).

Seeing systems as tools is helpful, at least in part because it forces us to reflect on our own gaming goals.  What do we want?  What tool will help us get the job done?  One of the problematic (and also wonderful) things about the hobby is that those goals are constantly in negotiation.  Gaming is social, so it's in negotiation between all of us who play.  It's also personal, and fun, and idiosyncratic -- so it's always in negotiation within ourselves as well.

(1) Sure, I know that genre emulation ties directly into the competing concerns Paladin lists.  Certain genres fall better into "grit" than "grandiloquence" for example.
(2) Notice I didn't say "metaphor" because I think that systems are not just like tools, they are tools.  They are tools for facilitating a certain sort of experience

06 June 2011

Emergent Elements -- Part 2

Obviously, it's not tomorrow.  I am going to have to try very hard to meet my goal of posts this month.  But onward!

Last post, I mentioned there were two interesting setting elements that emerged from seemingly random, around-the-table play elements.  The first was the Confectioner's Box, coming from a player's use of an Awesome Point to make cupcakes appear.  The second is still in formation, but it involves a new religion.

Last session, we had a new person around the table, the "date" (I only put that in quotes because I am not sure if it's entirely accurate) of a regular player.  She had never played an RPG before, but proved to be a quick study and a remarkably good sport, diving in with enthusiasm.  One of the other players had made her a character beforehand, with the "4d6" in order method we use resulting in a high wisdom and, thus, a cleric.  The experienced player did not give the cleric a name.  The new player never really came up with one that she liked, so the new party member was called "Nameless" and "Nameless Cleric" a lot.

After the game, the idea came to be that the lack of a name could be part of some sort of religious vows.  What if you gave up your given name when you joined the order?  You earned or found your "true" name, the one given to you by the god.  This order lacked even a name for their own god, believing simple mortal words were insufficient in the face of infinite divinity.  Maybe the entire order was based on the power of names; learning the divine or true names for things being one of the order's principle secrets, revealed only to those who have demonstrated sufficient piety or experience, and the source (somehow) of the cleric's power.

None of the above is really fleshed out yet, but I am working on it.  I love how this sort of thing (forging in-game pieces from random elements) is encourgaged by old-school play.

The other mechanical bit I mentioned last time is actually tied to the funny part I also mentioned.  The party had run afoul of some traps in the dungeon, after the thief (shockingly!) did not make his F/RT roll (of 14%).  This really made me rethink the thief, either doing away with the class altogether or stealing some sort of alternate skills system for him.  As a result of the theif's failure and the party's new-found fear of traps, they returned to the scene of an earlier battle, gathered up two zombie-corpses, stuck them on the end of spears, and made the zombies "point men" as they continued.  They avoided at least one trap this way, as the corpses triggered a pit.  Maybe you don't need a theif after all!

We play again this Wednesday, but at least two folks won't be there.

02 June 2011

Emergent Elements -- Part 1

At my last gaming session (last Wednesday) a number of interesting things happened which I think are worth sharing. Two provided interesting setting elements.  Two are making me rethink some mechanical issues.  The last was simply funny.

I'll talk about one of the mechanical issues first, as it directly led to some of the other things.  In an effort to capitalize on the general zaniness of the group, I tried out the Awesome Points mechanic from Old School Hack.  I hoped this group would buy into the idea immediately and wholeheartedly, but it actually took awhile for us all to get the hang of them.  The point of Awesome Points is to encourage players to do dramatic, awesome stuff.  They get rewarded for it (via more points) and they get a cushion against poor die rolls if (okay, when) things go awry.  The players were actually a little cautious about using them and, when they were used, it was usually to avoid something that could have been dangerous (and therefore, awesome).  They are designed to give the players a bit more control over the narrative, but the players are supposed to buy into the idea that they should use that control to complicate the narrative rather than avoiding complications (at least sometimes).  I certainly will continue to use them, but next time I think I will provide everyone of examples of how they can be used, modifying the examples slightly from the ones given in Old School Hack.

I'd also like to adapt the OSH model of using awesome points for character advancement, but that begins to get pretty far away from the Labryinth Lord ruleset.  At some point down that road, we should just play Old School Hack.  But I am not sure the players would be willing to convert to another system.

One use of an Awesome Point did lead to the Confectioner's Box and Random Cupcake Table.  At the end of the adventure, when the PC's were opening the Big Chest o' Treasure, Pithia's player tosses in an AP and says "It would be awesome if there were some cupcakes in that chest."  I replied that it would, indeed, be awesome if there were cupcakes in the chest.  Instead of a bunch of cupcakes, though, I thought it would be cooler if there were a magic item that made cupcakes!  Like all magic, though, it had its limitations -- hence the idea of a magic box that produces one randomly flavored cupcake per day.  The party was a little bummed they all didn't get cupcakes, but Pithia was pretty happy she now has a magical cupcake dispenser.  None of them know the item's background, so finding that out could produce some fun adventure possibilities.

So that's one setting element (the confectioner's box and it's background) and one mechanical element (Awesome Points in Labryinth Lord).  I'll tackle the rest of the stuff tomorrow.

01 June 2011

The Confectioner's Box

This is why you need a random cupcake table.

The following is designated Open Game Content.

The famed city of Abbas, home of the Second Caliphate and now virtually unknown in the east, was noted for many things.  Central to its fame was the presence of magic, which penetrated into many aspects of the city's life.  Minor magical trickets and items were found in almost every wealthy household.  Few of these items were as coveted as the collaborative creations of the magic-user Qabus and a mysterious baker.  This baker, whose name has been forgotten or hidden, was rumored to be an easterner, or perhaps from a locale even more exotic.  He likely was routinely offered a prominent spot in the Caliph's own household, but none of the records has his name.  Despite this mystery, it is known that the baker and Qabus (himself a friend to the Caliph), collaborated to construct several magic items that would produce fine baked goods.  Frosting wands have been found, as well as spoons that give anything they stir a sweet, light flavor (these are especially desired by beverage-makers).  There are also boxes, often given to children, that produce a small sweet treat once per day.  Boxes have been found that produce cupcakes, small pieces of candy, and loaves of bread.  These items are highly valued, both for their practical food produciton (though one cannot live by cupcakes alone!) and their historical and magical significance.  The secret of making such items, especially such items that produce such delicious confections, has likely been lost.

Qabus' Cupcake Box

This is a small (5"x5"x5") ebony box, hinged at the back.  Carved in the top is a small bow, often inset with semi-precious stones.  The inside is covered with soft, dark velvet.  Each morning, a cupcake of a random type (see random cupcake table), can be found in the box.  The cupcake is always fresh and tasty.  Once the cupcake in taken out, the box remains empty until the following morning.  Only one cupcake per day can be produced.