Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Supervillain Concept: Mr Twist

As I mentioned, Nick is planning a supervillain campaign. I've been brainstorming, and I've come up with a couple concepts that I thought were cool, but which I don't want to play for whatever reason.

Here's one:

Mr. Twist
The Articulated Man

Villain-type: Brutish thug

Powers: Inhuman athletic ability. Low-end super strength. Twisted regeneration.

Background: Mr. Twist received his pseudonym before he received his powers. He was an up-and-coming NBA player who was known even in the world of professional basketball as an incredibly talented athlete. Unfortunately, he was also notorious for being a poor team-player and playing a bit too rough on the court.

When he broke his leg in the middle of a game, it immediately healed... strangely. Where the break had been, Twist had a new leg joint, capable of 360 degree movement and supported by new, extra-tough and flexible musculature.

Over the next month, he broke a new bone every day. Each break was similarly replaced by a super-strong, super-flexible joint.

On occasion, Mr. Twist is hit by a bout of extraordinary, maddening joint pain that sends him into a rampage. Mostly, though, he just hires himself out as a high-priced thug to mastermind-type villains.

In the spirit of the Velvet Marauder...

If you aren't a fan of the Velvet Marauder, you should be.

Nick (who is gearing up to run a supervillain campaign) is a fan, and he's created A Villain's Life - the blog of the second Doctor Cataclysm. Check it out.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

GM Tools

Printable Graph Paper: Here or Here. Because you can never have enough.

Freemind - Mind-mapping software. Angela recommended this to me for creating flowchart-like-things for planning game sessions. I haven't tried it out yet.

Maple - a document organizer that includes a word processor and built-in databasing allowing you to connect documents with images, web pages, and such. I haven't used it, but I suspect it may be a great campaign-organizing tool.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Nostalgia and Ingenuity

Last night, in the final session of our Gygax Memorial 1e AD&D game Jeff has been running, we finished clearing out the moathouse near Hommlet.

Up until last night, out performance had been kind of lame. Last night,I think, we got into the dungeoneering mindset. We set an ambush. We used decoys. We took advantage of those few tools we had at our disposal. As a result, our first level characters took out an evil cleric who was probably about 5th level... and who we could, generally, only hit on a 20.

The challenge - and rising to meet it - was fun. Coming up with clever solutions is one of those things that I enjoy about gaming. I suspect that a lot of people who are enamored of old-school gaming (including, but far from limited to, Jeff) see older games as more conducive to this sort of play. For some of them, it probably is. If you are GMing a game and you aren't comfortable with the rules, you aren't likely to be comfortable making calls on the fly - or pitting the PCs against challenges they'll find near-impossible without ingenuity. Similarly, on the PC side, some of that cleverness in newer and more complex games can be internal to the character - whether it is a particularly neat build or a neat synergy between a couple of the PC's abilities. Some of this is going to replace the need for situational cleverness unless the GM forces the issue with challenging encounters that don't play directly to the strengths of the PCs.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Thoughts on 4e

As more information becomes available about 4e, I predict:
  • I will enjoy designing things in the 4e system a great deal.
  • I may well enjoy running 4e more than I do 3.5.
  • I will be incredibly frustrated by what I will perceive as arbitrary restrictions if I ever try to make a PC.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Cooking With Magic II

Basic: Reduce Person
A small person needs half as much food and water to sustain himself as one of medium size. This has obvious benefits from a food-conservation standpoint. It also has benefits for the frugal arcane gourmet who has limited access to large quantities of high-quality ingredients.

Intermediate: Gentle Repose
The benefits of being able to perfectly preserve a creature's corpse are obvious to any cook.

Advanced: Stone to Flesh
While best known for its capability of restoring petrified victims of medusae and other horrific creatures, this spell can also turn regular stone into a fleshy, edible substance. The particular qualities (and flavors) of this substance are highly dependent upon the type of stone it once was. Arcane chefs will search out particular geological features for unusual flavor combinations. It is notable that this substance, if produced from very clean stone, can be safely eaten raw. In such cases, it is often served in its stone form (usually sculpted) and transmuted immediately before being eaten.

Flaws in Game Design

I tend to be a fan of a particular game-mechanical trick that first (to my knowledge) showed up in TSR's old Marvel Super Heroes (FASERIP) game - that of spending experience points (or their equivalent) for temporary power boosts. I've often thought that one good way of making veteran-types characters would be to allow them to more cheaply buy higher-level abilities with the caveat that using those abilities at their full level costs them a wee bit of xp (definitely less than they would normally get during the session).

Given that, you'd think I'd be a fan of the inverse: character flaws that you take that give you a bit of extra xp when they come into play. I would have (and did) think this too.

I've been playing in a game for a few months now that is using White Wolf's new Storytelling system. While it is generally a much better system than their old one, its take on Flaws is grating on me. Here's the deal:

One of the PCs has the 'behavior blind' flaw. Essentially, he doesn't pick up on social cues. He has a tendency to say wholly inappropriate things. According to the rules, he gets an extra experience point (we normally get about 3/session, so this is significant) in a session where his flaw comes into play in a way that inconveniences him.

It sounds OK, right?

Well, the problem is that it inconveniences the other PCs more often and more dramatically than it inconveniences him - his major goals, unsurprisingly, tend not to be social in nature. In last night's session, it inconvenienced him and he properly got an extra xp - because we cut his PC out of about 1/4 of the session entirely. The player was (vocally) unhappy about this, and as players we didn't want to cut another player out of the game, but there was no way we'd have allowed his PC to enter into a delicate social situation when we could avoid it. The extra xp helped smooth that over. It worked.

It was the first time it worked, though. More often, I've been frustrated when he's been receiving extra xp for, essentially, mouthing off in a way that ruins my goals... and (maybe) mildly inconveniences him. The GM has, on occasion, simply awarded the extra xp to everyone... but that's a kludge. The rule doesn't work as advertised. Perhaps if it came with additional guidance, but such advice sections are notoriously ignored anyway...

Monday, April 21, 2008


I realize that it has been a while since I last posted. Work has been eating my brain, and I haven't been thinking too much about gaming stuff in the last week or so.

I promise to post this week. Really.

In the meantime, go check out this post of Ben's at ars ludi. It gets to the core of some frustrations I've been having with campaign design lately.

Friday, April 11, 2008

The Gnoble Gnoll?

I've always had a soft spot for gnolls. I'm fairly certain that it is the visual of a hyena-person that I appreciate, since I don't actually like most of what D&D has done to them over the years. I'm not a fan of their demonic associations. I don't like the characterization of them as shiftless and overly-lazy. I don't really get the fact that they surround themselves with hyenas (like humans clearly surround themselves with monkeys?).

What's left? I don't know, but for some irrational reason whatever is left has long resonated with me. Maybe it has something to do with the flinds.

Anyway, over on EN World, I offered up an alternate take on the gnoll. I thought I'd share it here.

What do we know of the gnolls? They are mostly carnivorous, but they aren't known as hunters. Instead, we know them as scavengers and raiders, and we tend to assume that this is because they are lazy. They seem to prefer humanoid flesh as food, and they set ambushes to catch their prey.

What I am going to reveal about the gnolls may shock you and seem impossible given what we know about these vicious creatures: The defining characteristic of gnoll culture is a deep-seated respect for life.

This is not to say that gnolls are 'good' in any conventional sense. They certainly aren't kind or generous as a rule. In fact, if you were dying and a gnoll came along, it would almost certainly kill you and eat you.

The gnoll's respect for life is a strange thing. A gnoll will almost never take the life of another living thing (even a plant) unless it is in a position to fight back. There are some caveats to this. Primary among them is that gnolls assume that all intelligent beings are prima facie in a position to fight back. Thus, gnolls have no compunctions about killing helpless people - or laying wait in ambush.

Since gnolls do not hunt game animals (they will hunt dangerous creatures on occasion) or kill plants for food, their lifestyle revolves around finding enough to eat. They usually subsist on scavenged goods - already dead animal or plant matter. They will occasionally follow large carnivores and steal their kills. More often, they will move into agricultural areas and raid the stockpiles that farmers have. They will also pick fruits and vegetables when they can do so without killing the plant. They do not shy away from conflict, however. A hungry gnoll tribe will not hesitate to set its sights on a community - or set an ambush along a well-traveled road.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Interesting observation...

I was checking my blog stats, and it appears that the Culture-Making Checklist that I posted a bit over a year ago has been getting a lot of hits lately.

I wonder if a disproportionately large number of people are engaging in campaign design at the moment... prepping for the imminent release of 4e.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Roleplaying in your own backyard

It seems like most of the modern rpgs that I end up playing in are set in the area I live in...

Currently, I'm playing in a Mage campaign set in Champaign-Urbana and a post-apocalyptic game set in Illinois (we haven't actually been to C-U yet, but we'll end up there at some point).

I have mixed feelings about this sort of thing.

It relieves the GM from needing to explain a lot, but it also allows players to depend upon things that the GM hasn't explained... and, indeed, might not know about.

It allows for people to make inside jokes (HaHa! I blew up the building you work in!), but... after a few campaigns, those jokes get very old.

Local legends and landmarks can be mined for ideas, but... again... repetition of this (The English Building is haunted! The bad guys are hiding... in the steam tunnels! Surprise!) doesn't hold up very well.

Also, one of the reasons I roleplay is for escapist purposes. This is somewhat less effective when your game includes a lot of the same issues and places as your everyday life...

I've been vaguely sick for most of the last week, so excuse me if I am being whiny.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Cooking with Magic I

Basic: Mending
The kitchen uses of the Mending cantrip are innumerable. The spell does not have an effect upon creatures, but dead things are considered objects rather than creatures. Want to check the doneness of your meat? Slice it open as far as you want... and then cast this simple spell to mend the tear. Mending can also be used for more exotic purposes. A popular gourmet technique involves serving small portions of food inside hollowed-out eggs that are mended so as to appear whole.

Intermediate: Animate Dead
Few people want to eat a zombie, but necromancy has been used as a unique presentation technique. Roast an animal whole and present it before your dinner guests - then animate it as a skeleton. The flesh will fall smoothly off of the bones, which can then walk away (or be commanded to dance as dinner entertainment).

Advanced: Clone
Some gourmands are curious about the taste of various sentient creatures, but understandably wary of moral concerns. The clone spell allows for the creation of a soulless, inert duplicate of a creature. Perhaps unsurprisingly due to the remarkable expense of the cloning process, this is usually used for particularly large creatures.