Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Gears Keep Turning

I ran my all-ladies (well, excepting me, of course) game last night. We played for about two and a half hours. (The sessions with this group must be shorter, because it's on a week night and everyone has work the next morning.) This group is pretty dialogue/roleplay intensive; it was an hour into the game before anyone even made a roll of the dice. We had no combat this session, and in fact only one combat the entire campaign thus far. (Admittedly it has been a pretty brief campaign)

My players complimented me once again on my distinctive voices. I was pretty pleased with my ability to react to their avenues of investigation. There were a few clues and even an entire lead I dreamed up on the fly, because in investigation-oriented game, I prefer to accommodate the PCs lines of inquiry, rather than make them "click around" until they chance upon what they are "supposed" to.

The game is going well, and I look forward to next week's game.

Finally, a brief "wtf" moment for me: I have started teaching an afterschool program at an elementary school near the high school where I teach. (Though I am home sick today) I was assigned a small class of fifth and sixth graders. Yesterday as they were completing their math homework, one of them was talking about playing Grand Theft Auto. I asked, "Aren't you a little young for a game about killing and stealing? How old are you?"
"Ten," he replied.
I then realized that I was playing Dungeons & Dragons at his age, a game that features killing and looting quite prominently...

Monday, September 26, 2011

Oh, and One More Thing...

Latest term used to find my blog:
"how to fix the rifts rules."

My only response to you, wayward internet soul, is a Rage Against the Machine lyric:

There be no shelter here

Someday. Someday I will untangle this gawdawful mess if it costs me my very faculties...

Goin' Muddin'

This weekend, I thought I was going to be unable to make my Sunday game. (Turns out I was able, though I was a couple hours late) Facing a week with no gaming, I decided to enter the stygian underworld of MUDs, a throwback from my junior high school days when the Internet was new and shiny and sort of barren...

I found a free MUD and created a new character. I quickly found that this MUD has the same issue I had with most MUDs back in the day, which is that it is a harsh, unforgiving world where you must spend your first few levels killing gophers, bumblebees, and old ladies in the park. Seriously. The most powerful opponent that my nascent character has been able to best is a "young man." He was minding his own business in the park until I murdered him for sweet, sweet xp. After obtaining enough to level, I wandered randomly around the perfectly square shaped city until I was finally able to stumble across the Fighter's Guild so that I could gain 2nd level. As far as I can tell, there are no maps to the Fighter's Guild. The game is also nearly deserted, so there isn't anyone to ask, either. On the rare occasion that I run into another player, they are either "linkdead" and non-responsive or they have nothing to say because they are trying to kill all the gophers before I can kill them.

I first tried to bypass this dismal existence of sociopathy, but the areas outside of town are totally unsurvivable for a beginning character.

To me, MUDs embody what happens when a sandbox goes wrong; players stumble around in listless confusion, taking their boredom and frustration out on whatever they happen across. (Unless that thing is too powerful, of course...I tried to throw down with an undertaker in a library and he laid me out...back to picking on small animals and the elderly)

I'm actually playing the game as I write this blog entry. I click over every now and again to make sure I'm not getting schooled by a duck or a young woman who was feeding the pigeons.

...damnation, I know there are brigands in the forest. How much longer do I have to endure this bullshit before I can go on something resembling an adventure?

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Wasting an Afternoon on the Puzzles in The Secret Fire

I love a good puzzle, but I'm afraid this book might be too much for me. I'm also immensely frustrated from the past week at work, and I'm in sort of a crabby mood, so my puzzle solving acumen might not be up to snuff at the moment. Some scattered thoughts:

On page 307 is located a cypher. I can't seem to translate the passages on the front page using the cipher, because I know that the Greek letters don't totally map to English. One word I seemed to be able to translate is Stilico, who turns out to be some kind of general from antiquity.

I've solved some of the number puzzles, but I don't know what to do with the answers.

Some of the illustrations are coded with letters that can be deciphered from page 307. The last four in the book are NTSG, I think. Not sure what the letter codes have to do with the answers or the puzzles.

Certain illustrations are repeated throughout the book.

The artwork seems to have a rather morbid repeated theme of severed, often skeletal, heads.

A small symbol appears on certain page numbers. It never appears after page 208.

The book features several instances of magic squares.

I don't know. I've seen other bloggers mention the puzzles, but so far as I can tell, nobody has taken a serious crack at them.

I also have a question about how damage works, but given how likely I am to ever actually run this's probably not vital that I get it answered.

I end this note with a little "gaming gallows humor" from my friend Glenn, whose gaming wisdom I have oft quoted on this here blog:

Glenn's Second Law of Gaming Groups: You likelihood of getting to run a game is inversely proportional to your enthusiasm for it.

Now, if you will excuse me, I'm going to go back to failing at translation.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A Tiny Flicker of Validation

One of the search terms used to find my blog:

"shadowrun way to {sic} complicated"

Just sayin'.

Monday, September 19, 2011

SWN/Shadowrun: Un-Reinventing the Wheel

So I've been agonizing over the Matrix in my SWN to Shadowrun conversion.

Today I realized that there are perfectly serviceable rules for hacking in the SWN supplement, Polychrome. They are not as robust or complex as the SR Matrix rules, but they are simple as hell and allow the hacker (though I still prefer the term decker) to work in real-time with the team. If hacking is done on-site, it takes only 1d6 rounds... some of the things a hacker can do are quite analogous to the D&D thief, which was the sweet spot I was going for.

I think I will put my Matrix system on the shelf and simply say that if I run Shadowrun with SWN, I am going to be using those hacking rules instead.

Now, I just need cyberware and beasties and I think I have enough to run. Polychrome also solved my Wired Reflexes problem in an very elegant way: each round a character uses super reflexes, they get a second action at the end of the round. (There is essentially an extra "round" at the end of the round for wired characters) Using your wires causes a point of System Strain each time you use them, and you have to make a Tech Save or else they overheat and shut off for one hour. Perhaps you could include advanced levels of it that don't overheat, but still cause the Strain... something to simulate Wired 2 and Wired 3 without turning your game into a slogfest.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

A Ponderous Misprint

The AD&D 2nd edition PHB has an optional table for weapon type vs. AC. While not nearly as insane as the same table from 1st edition, I haven't known many people who have used it, if only because it is jaw-droppingly counter intuitive. The table shows modifiers to the attacker's THACO for using different weapon types (slashing, piercing, or bludgeoning) against the different armor types. This would have worked better, in my opinion, as modifiers to the attacker's to hit roll rather than THACO., when talking about the table, Mindy and I couldn't come to an agreement. I tried to explain it and she tried to explain it back, each thinking the other was clearly not grasping how this rule was to be used. Finally, she started giving off numbers that were the opposite of mine... +3 was -3. In disbelief, I compared our books... and the tables are reversed. In my book, attacking plate mail with a slashing weapon is a +3 adjustment to your THACO, which is bad and makes it harder to hit. In her book, it's listed as -3. This is the case for all modifiers: +2 in my book is -2 in hers. We have the same version of the PHB (the one with three guys on horseback riding toward you, the 1989 cover I think.) It appears the modifiers in her book are supposed to be modifiers to the actual attack roll, but the text still says they should be modifiers to THACO.

The math comes out the same, if you use her modifiers at penalties or bonuses to the attack roll. The ideas on these tables seem to line up with the modifiers from 1e (slashing weapons suck against plate armor, etc.)

Anyone else ever notice this?

Monday, September 12, 2011

Paying My Joesky Tax

I owe this for my recent uncharitable thoughts. (Just the recent ones, mind you.)


A small, irregularly shaped ring made of what appears to be purplish chitin. It does not radiate magic. If worn, the character feels a brief stinging sensation, after which he can detect magic at will. In addition, he gains infravision as a dwarf, and if he already possesses infravision, the range is doubled.
If removed, the ring will crumble to dust. If left on, it crumbles after 1d3 days, although the wearer will find that his powers remain.

After 3d4 days, the wearer can comprehend languages.
After another 2d4 days, the character has ESP, which functions up to three times per day. At this point, strange dreams of bizarre planes and distant planets begin to trouble him.
After another 1d4 days, the character gains 1d4 points of Intelligence. One axis of his alignment changes randomly, at the DM's discretion. The character becomes ill-tempered and has frequent headaches.
Finally, after a final 1d3 days, the character dies as a purple, centipede-like creature emerges from his head in the dead of night and slips away. After 2d6 days of gorging itself on the latent psychic energies of nearby creatures, it curls up into a ring-like shape and enters a torpor. It can remain in torpor for 1d4 years. If worn, it passes its eggs into the new host and dies, beginning the process described above.

While infested, a remove disease spell will grant the PC a Save vs. Rod. If successful, the parasite is expelled in a nosebleed of purple-black goo. All special powers vanish one turn thereafter.

Any sort of detection of thoughts will reveal a second set of thoughts, chattering and incomprehensible, along with the character's thoughts.

Although spell-like, none of these creatures abilities, nor any abilities it imparts on a host, are considered magical.

**This is brought to you by an immensely disturbing dream I had several years ago.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Playing AD&D

We played Mindy's AD&D game tonight. Her game is sort of generic AD&D, and I say this not as a put down, but rather to clarify that it isn't any specific campaign world, and there isn't anything that deviates heavily from the basic rules of the game.

This is in contrast to Mike's game, which is going to be heavily Nordic/Viking themed. He has decided to move away from using the Hellfrost setting in lieu of something of his own (?) design.

A few thoughts...

1. We spent too much time screwing around in town. This is mostly our own fault.

2. Had a rules disagreement with the DM. A spell which was supposed to do 2d4 damage was changed to doing 1d4+1d6+1d8. The initial reason for this is that is was "more fun." Later, it was decided that the spell did more damage from being cast in an enclosed area. (Inside a dungeon room) My gripe was mostly based on the fact that, at 1st level, 2d4 is survivable by most of the party, whereas 1d4+1d6+1d8 would have killed anyone in the party but me. She did offer a saving throw, which the spell doesn't normally allow, but I refused it mainly so that we don't create crazy precedents of saving throws to spells that don't allow saving throws. I'm willing to take my licks if it means that, once we have regular access to said spell, the bad guys will be taking theirs.

3. I like Mindy's minimalist approach to races. Her version of AD&D 2nd edition gives everyone a couple of little bonuses, without getting into the whole "elves can surprise on 1-3 if they are 90 feet away or only with elves and halflings etc etc" level of racial abilities. Even humans get a few little bonuses. I have to admit I don't understand where the human bonuses come from (+1 to hit with two handed sword and quarterstaff, for some reason) but I find that it is part of the charm.

4. So far, Mindy hands out xp rather arbitrarily. We seem to receive a flat amount at the end of the session. I know that JB over at B/X Blackrazor has quite a bit to say about xp and the awarding thereof. One thing that arbitrary xp makes me want to do is avoid combat. If we're getting the same xp whether we snuff every single evil cleric in the temple, why not just sneak past them, or scare them off with magic or something? Likewise, if treasure does not generate xp, why the hell bother with the small change like copper and silver? (We use the harsh coin weights from days of yore: 10 coins weigh a pound!) I would like maybe at least a cursory breakdown of what, exactly, we got the xp for. If it's mission based, that will change the way we play. If we get bonuses for clever ideas, that will change the way we play. Josh has suggested that the rate of advancement is set, maybe enough to level the "average" classes every two or three games, since this campaign runs every other week, and since we started it kind of on a lark and haven't really determined if it is going to go on for any particular length of time. If that's the case, I'd also like to know. Heck, I'm not even sure if she's decided yet.

I do enjoy me some AD&D. Next week is the start of Mike's Viking game. At this point, I'm torn between playing a Skald or playing a Roman missionary stranded in the North. (Well, it's not really Rome, but per Mike it is essentially Rome with the serial numbers filed off.)

Game on, cats and kittens.

Those Neat Little Merit Badges

I love the Merit Badges over at Strange Magic. As I thought about which ones would apply to me, I found that I had trouble deciding. I think that I try to run each of my campaigns differently. My AD&D 1st edition campagin, for instance, would have an almost entirely different set of badges than the game I ran for the missus and friends last week. I would say that the way I ran Traveller or Pathfinder would also have different badges. I think I'd find them more useful as sort of a "rating system" for a particular campaign, rather than a particular GM's stamp collection. My AD&D1 game was highly tactical, very deadly to PCs, and had both gonzo and disturbing elements. My Savage Worlds game, on the other hand, would be better described as "safe" and focuses more on character development. I think most of us actually have several different styles of GMing that we use depending on the game and the audience.

I can think of a few players I've gamed with over the years who would greatly benefit from the "Run", "Tactics", and "Investigation" badges -or lack thereof- being prominently displayed prior to the start of a campaign.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Setbacks and Victories

Okay, so I screwed around and missed the deadline to run a game at the Very Nearby Con. I am okay with this, however, because there are enough cool things being run on Saturday (likely the only day I will be attending) that I can game from morning to night.

However, all current trivial matters of this sort are trumped by the fact that, on this day, the 10th of September, in the Year of Our Lord 2011, I have managed to rearrange my shelves such that all gaming books are presently on a shelf. Huzzah!

A Neutral Observation

Fact: Nothing will kill your enthusiasm for something faster than reading about it on RPGnet. God, what a bunch of cockbags.

Edit: A valid point was made to me earlier today that not every single poster on RPGnet is, in fact, a cockbag.

To you non-cockbags, I hearby apologize.

I will contend that there are a significant number of cockbags on the site, however.
I will also contend that it is a pretty dickish thing to respond to a new gamer's enthusiasm with cynicism, sarcasm, and mockery.

To the type of 'netter who does this sort of thing, I do not apologize.

If I were that erstwhile youngster (presuming he/she is a youngster based on diction and word choice and whatnot), my first impression of gaming would be that gamers are insular assholes.

(Although I often think this anyway, and I've been in it for 20 years.)

There are some who say that our hobby is dying. I have a few theories as to why.

Recycling vs. Meaningful Choices...yet again.

Thought exercise:

When you build a dungeon, you put rooms in it. You put treasures, clues, secrets, and other neat stuff. Sometimes, you make doors stuck, or locked, or otherwise difficult to open. Sometimes doors are secret or concealed.

When you do this, you create the possibility that the rooms beyond will not be explored.

Depending on your vintage and style of game, the players will often have a way to bypass your difficult doors: perhaps you play a version of the game that has a thief who can pick a lock with a lucky die roll. Perhaps the dwarf or elf or someone along in the band has a greater than average chance of detecting your hidden door or your stone block trap.

The PCs finding the hidden/difficult to open rooms hinges on several factors. Some of them involve the players thinking to look for doors or managing to find their way into this part of the dungeon. Then, it comes down to luck. Will the thief make his 15% roll? Will someone, anyone, roll a 1 on their 1-in-6 chance to find the hidden lever that opens the door? There is a possibility that the dice will simply not be in their favor.

In the case of stuck or locked doors, PCs can smash the doors down. This might create unforeseen consequences, like monsters investigating the noise, plus delayed time, which means those spells and torches and such begin to fizzle out...

If your hidden doors require the solving of a riddle or puzzle, player skill becomes more important.

What about hidden doors? There is a big chance they simply will not find them. If you require hidden doors to be found through narrative, then players not finding your hidden rooms is on them.

If you allow secret door checks, the dice may dictate that those rooms you created will never be found.

...of course, an unlucky random encounter and a cascade of bad die rolls always carried with it the possibility that your party will never see any other part of the dungeon...or, for that matter, your particular campaign.

Are you okay with this?

Do you recycle the dungeon levels or the missed rooms? Doesn't that invalidate their value as a reward? Doesn't that start us down the path to 4E's Treasure Parcels?

As folks around here are fond of saying, allowing for failure is the only way to give success meaning. Allowing for some stuff to simply never be found is the only way to have action/inaction/success/failure carry any weight.

Today, while I was cleaning out my basement, I threw away the map to the Keep of the Stone-Scream Clan, the mostly unexplored dungeon in which my Pathfinder group suffered a TPK back in June. I spent hours on that dungeon, making level after level, and the party died on the third level. If I ever give Pathfinder another go, and I decide to use the same campaign world, I have decided that the deaths of the adventuring PCs meant that the last Stone-Scream sorcerer was able to bring his demonic master into the mortal plane, and that the mountains are now an uninhabitable demi-plane of madness.

Friday, September 9, 2011

This Dumbass Rating Thingie

Aight, so I took a curious gander at what my blog would be rated with that little widget y'all are using, and I got PG, and the reason I got PG is because

1. It found two instances of the word "death"
2. It found one instance of the word "ass"

...but it ignored my liberal use of other, stronger language? Did it base this off like, a random post, or my most recent post, or what?

Fie on that.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Thoughts Errant

My hood, but time has been flying lately.

I haven't been working very diligently on my Shadowrun to SWN conversion, since it is unlikely to be run anytime soon. (Or possibly ever...) I am not abandoning the project, as I'd love to have a rule set to play Shadowrun with that isn't quite as wonky as Shadowrun.

I've been pouring through The Secret Fire, and while there are one or two small things I'm not really down with, I am pretty much on board with this game. In fact, I have a few friends I might want to try it out with, while also trying out this Google Plus business. I continue to be intrigued by the number puzzles, particularly the obsession with Circles of Eight, but I need to ignore it for the time being or it will consume my soul. I'm going to start seeing the number 34 everywhere.

...also, apparently The Secret Fire refers to something in Tolkien lore. I have to confess that I really don't know that much about Tolkien's cosmology, and that I like The Hobbit waaaaaaaaaay more than the Trilogy.

My kung fu bros have mentioned the idea of playing again, maybe once a month, at the school. I'd be down. We're probably talking B/X this time, with no bells or whistles. Apparently our sifu would like to try D&D, or at least learn more about it.

I ran a game for an all girl group this last week. I'm going to come right out and say this: an all girl group plays very differently than a mixed group or an all guy group. The players loved the session and I have to admit I had quite a bit of fun, too. It was the first time I've run something since the Local Con back in July, and only the 2nd time I've run something since the untimely death of my previous campaign.

I need to make my character for the Viking AD&D game. (The one that runs opposite the regular AD&D game) I sketched out an idea for a Roman-esque cleric who came to the North to spread monotheism to the heathen folk, but now he's kind of stranded there since his Empire has been sacked by barbarians. I'm also looking at playing a skald-like bard, ready to jump up on tables in mead-halls and brag about that time that his King wrestled two giants and then killed a sea monster on his way home.

....goddamn do I hate that CGI Beowulf movie...

I have until tomorrow to decide if I'm running a game at the Very Nearby Con at the end of this month. If I decide to, it will definitely be Stars Without Number, but I'm stuck between a few premises. Maybe I can come up with a synopsis that is vague enough to cover all of them, and then I'll run whichever one I can put together most easily in then next few weeks. Events I'm planning to register for include a session of Last Unicorn edition Star Trek: TNG, Werewolf: the Wild West, and possibly a game of Pathfinder. (Although not one of those organized play things, because I really hate organized play...*)

Palladium is finally putting out the New Generation sourcebook for Robotech, but apparently I'm the only gamer on Earth who liked the manga-sized sourcebooks, so they are switching back to normal size. This vexes me, because now my set will be asymmetrical. (What? Palladium did something that irritates me?!)

I imagine I will spend this weekend finishing off The Secret Fire, pawing through my still new-smelling copy of Savage Worlds Deluxe, and playing AD&D 2nd** edition on Sunday. Holler.

PS- Though I'm still getting hits from that weird "gothbook" website, the have finally dropped back below hits from nearby, allied blogs. This fills me with a strange, but very palpable relief.

*Yes, I tried an RPGA game once and it was godawful.
**Well, more like AD&D 1.5, but who is keeping track?

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Secrets in the Secret Fire

First off, my Sunday group is putting Shadowrun on hold. This is good because today I realized just how tired I am of Shadowrun. We will now be alternating two different AD&D campaigns. Fuck yeaaaaaaaaaaaah. One of them is based on the Savage Worlds setting called Hellfrost (Vikings/Norse dudes during a horrible ice age that renders most of the planet uninhabitable) and the other one seems to be sort of "default" D&D, which is just fine by me. I had intended to post about The Secret Fire, which I have read almost in its entirety, but I've got a little problem.... I've found...things... in the book. Little number puzzles hidden in the margins. Cryptic phrases that I think are more than just decoration. The author himself hints that there are things hidden in the book, and I'll be damned if I'm not stumbling across them.: a magic square puzzle that leads to a picture with another magic square hidden in the picture... a certain symbol that shows up on certain page numbers, but never after page 209... other things. I might be going mad. Who knows. Tenkar, I'm specifically curious as to whether or not you've noticed these things, but anyone else with a copy is free to chime in. I would have figured that the forums over at TSF games would be crawling with speculation, but...nada. I will get to posting my thoughts on the actual game within the book, but for now, I'll be obsessing and scribbling numbers and notes in my notebook. If this blog now descends into mad ravings and I go nuts a la House of Leaves, you at least know why.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

I'm 30th Level

Today is my 30th birthday, which I understand still makes me something of a punk kid in this neck of the woods. My lovely wife has gifted me a copy of Savage Worlds Deluxe. I've only skimmed the new/bonus material, but I must say this is a beautiful book. The artwork is almost entirely new, and I found myself quite taken with a few of the pictures. When you can look at the artwork in a book and get three different game inspiration ideas, you know those were pages well spent. By absolute coincidence, my copy of The Secret Fire arrived in the mail this morning, making it something of a birthday present to myself. I read a little bit this morning, and might read a bit more while the missus is shopping for chili ingredients from the farmer's market. Given that we all have Memorial Day off, my Sunday group is considering an extra session on Monday. I had planned to get caught up with some work stuff on Monday, but I might end up cutting that short in favor of extra gaming goodness. I actually have half a mind to whip up that Savage Worlds or World of Darkness one shot for some gaming later today. Thoughts on TSF will follow, once I've actually finished reading the book.