Friday, August 29, 2008

I love it when a plan comes together...

As Jeff noted, we sat down the other night and figured out what the group was interested in doing. Jeff and I will trade off story arcs (probably every 4 sessions or so) in two different games. He'll be running a pulp SF game in the Buck Rodgers style. I'll be doing a cyberpunk-fantasy-post-apocalyptic mashup - Shadowrun meets Gamma World. Jeff is going first, which gives me a bit of breathing room to get ready.

Right now, I have elements:
  • Giant corporate arcologies - self-sustaining ecosystems that are isolated from the rest of the world.
  • Wastelands between the arcologies, devastated by magical disasters and inhabited by strange creatures.
  • Tribes living in the wastelands, some clinging to ill-understood bits of civilization.
  • Colonies from the arcologies sent out to reclaim Wasteland Zones... and running into trouble.
  • PCs as the A-Team - travelling from Zone to Zone within the wasteland - righting wrongs and hunting threats.
  • PC ideas: Doug as a rigger - former Deathrace-style driver. Jeff as a heavily-cybered combat vet, struggling to maintain his humanity in a post-human body (or at least afford treatment for cyberpsychosis).
  • Inspirational material - Television: Ark II, the A-Team
  • Inspirational material - RPGs: Shadowrun, Gamma World, Ex Machina, Paranoia (setting more than tone), Cyberpunk 2020
  • Inspirational material - books: Hardwired, The Book of the New Sun, A Canticle for Liebowitz, In the Drift
  • Inspirational material - movies: Six-String Samurai, A Boy and His Dog, Logan's Run, The Road Warrior
  • Inspirational material - other: Fallout
  • Other inspiration? Ideas welcome...
Things I know I need to figure out:
  • PC motivation/organizational affiliation
  • System - Shadowrun is the obvious choice for me, but there's a temptation to do something pulpier... and adapt Spirit of the Century
  • How to maintain a mission-of-the-week feel

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Vampire allergies and other strangeness

I've talked a bit about the Monday night game that I play in - it is a Morrow Project game that uses White Wolf's Storytelling system. The Morrow Project is a game about operatives for a shadowy philanthropic paramilitary organization who are cryogenically frozen in case of disaster. We woke up to a post-apocalyptic world ~150 years after a nuclear war.

It has been a really fun game. I'm playing a manipulative bastard, and I'm enjoying it. The problem?

Vampires.

These might be quasi-canon in the Morrow Project, but I have a visceral reaction to vampires in White Wolf games. I LARPed fairly heavily through the mid-to-late 90s - and was even an international coordinator for One World By Night. It totally burnt me out. Now, the thought of playing a vampire-based rpg is a total turn-off. It is utterly irrational, but it is there.

So. Vampires appeared in a game that I was enjoying... that happened to use White Wolf's ruleset. This is a problem.

I'm trying to get over it. I've spoken to the GM a bit... and he's sympathetic. He let me know that the vampires are largely avoidable. The problem, I suspect, is that the other players might be really interested in going in that direction. Any advice is welcome.

In related news, I'm also at one of those transitional points in gaming (and life) that come every once in a while, and it has me a bit discombobulated.

Things changing:
  • My Exalted game lacks a meeting time. One of the players is going back to school and will no longer be able to meet on Thursday evenings.
  • Our Wednesday night group lost a player... and we're not sure what we are going to do next. I might run Shadowrun. Or something. Or Jeff might run something. Doug hasn't offered to run anything, which is sad. We're meeting tomorrow night to figure out what direction (if any) to move in...
  • Angela and I had been planning a game to co-GM after her D&D campaign wraps up... but something was seriously bugging me about the game. It didn't feel right. We scrapped the idea and started over. I'm pretty excited about it.
  • For the first time in a while, we have a usable gaming space in the house. It is still a mess (I keep asking the cats to clean it up, but...), but it is serviceable.
  • Work might get totally, totally insane in about a month (but come with a nice pay increase). Alternately, my job might be up in the air. This situation does not help long term planning.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Spirit of the Century

I didn't pick up much at Gen Con this year. One thing I did buy, though, was a copy of Spirit of the Century. I'd almost bought it last year. In the meantime, I'd heard only good things about it and had developed a potential use for it. So, yeah. I read the book over this weekend. It is awesome.

Spirit of the Century uses FATE 3.0 mechanics. There is an online SRD. If you aren't familiar with FATE, go check it out. It is totally awesome. Am I repeating myself? Anyway, PCs are defined in terms of skills, stunts, and aspects. Skills are pretty standard. Stunts are abilities that expand on or break the normal rules of skills - like d20 feats, I guess. Aspects, however, are really what drive the system; they are free-form descriptors, shticks, or things that matter to the PC. Here are some examples. Aspects are invoked to give a bonus (this costs resources) or compelled (this increases your resources) to require some sort of response. You can impose aspects on other people (or locations) via manuevers - tossing sand in someone's face can give them the aspect "Blinded." You can invoke aspects on other people (or locations or objects or whatever) as well as on yourself. The system is beautifully oriented to make the most out of the environment.

The system is well-integrated with the pulp genre, but it wouldn't be too hard to separate it. I will say that the book has some of the best GMing advice I've read in a while, with discussions about how to leverage the aspects system to get your players to do some of your adventure design for you and how to structure pulp adventures. The game is billed as a pick-up rpg. I don't know how successful it is in that format, but the GMing advice is well geared toward it.

Check it out. You won't be sorry.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Hydra: an alternate view

Here's a slightly odd take on a solution to the hydra problem for 4e. A standard level 12 encounter for 4 PCs would feature (1) Hydra, (1) Skulking Hydra Head, and (4) minion Hydra Heads for a 6-headed hydra.


I had to create a new mechanic for multiple monsters sharing a single body. It should, I hope, be self-explanatory.


Hydra

large natural beast (reptile)

Level 12 Elite Brute (Body)

XP 1,400

Hydra Body

When a hydra moves, it moves its appendages along with it. If the hydra is pushed, pulled, or slid, all adjacent hydra appendages are also pushed, pulled, or slid.

Initiative +9

Senses: Perception +13; all-around vision,

HP 340; Bloodied 170

AC 25; Fortitude 26, Reflex 24, Will 23

Saving Throws +2

Speed 5; swim 10

Action Points 1

Bite (standard; at-will)

Reach 2; +14 vs AC; 1d8 + 5 damage

Hydra Feast

When a hydra's melee attack hits an enemy, appendages adjacent to that enemy may make an immediate basic attack upon it.

Head Regeneration (when first bloodied by an attack that does neither fire nor acid damage, encounter)

The hydra's head is severed and is replaced by two heads. One is identical to the head of the (now bloodied) hydra. The other is a Skulking Hydra Head. A hydra cannot regenerate a head if reduced to 0 hit points by the attack that bloodied it.

Twining Necks (minor; at-will)

The hydra may freely rearrange all of its appendages, provided that they all remain adjacent to its body.

Lurking Strike (move, recharge 5, 6)

+16 vs AC; 3d8 + 5 damage

If a lurking strike succeeds, the hydra's defenses all increase by 2 until the beginning of its next turn.

Alignment Unaligned

Languages –

Str 20 (+11)

Con 20 (+11)

Dex 16 (+9)

Int 2 (+2)

Wis 14 (+8)

Cha 8 (+5)



Skulking Hydra Head

large natural beast (reptile)

Level 12 Lurker (Appendage)

XP 700

Hydra Appendage

Hydra appendages cannot move into a space that is nonadjacent to their body. An appendage cannot be pushed, pulled, or slid to a position that is not adjacent to its body.

Initiative +14

Senses: Perception +13

HP 92; Bloodied 46

AC 26; Fortitude 25, Reflex 25, Will 23

Speed 5; swim 10 (appendage)

Bite (standard; at-will)

+16 vs AC; 1d8 + 5 damage

Combat Advantage

A skulking hydra head that has combat advantage deals an extra 1-6 damage on its attacks.

Head Regeneration (when first bloodied by an attack that does neither fire nor acid damage, encounter)

The skulking hydra head is severed and replaced by two heads. One is identical to the (now bloodied) skulking hydra head. The other is a hydra head (minion). A skulking hydra head cannot regenerate a head if reduced to 0 hit points by the attack that bloodied it.

Entwined Sacrifice (immediate reaction, recharge 6)

The lurking hydra head may switch places with an adjacent hydra head as an immediate reaction.

Lurking Strike (move, recharge 5, 6)

+16 vs AC; 3d8 + 5 damage

If a lurking strike succeeds, the hydra's defenses all increase by 2 until the beginning of its next turn.

Alignment Unaligned

Languages –

Str 20 (+11)

Con 20 (+11)

Dex 18 (+10)

Int 2 (+2)

Wis 14 (+8)

Cha 8 (+5)



Hydra Head

large natural beast (reptile)

Level 12 Minion (Appendage)

XP 175

Hydra Appendage

Hydra appendages cannot move into a space that is nonadjacent to their body. An appendage cannot be pushed, pulled, or slid to a position that is not adjacent to its body.

Initiative +9

Senses: Perception +13

HP 1; a missed attack never damages a minion

AC 25; Fortitude 25, Reflex 24, Will 23

Speed 5; swim 10 (appendage)

Bite (standard; at-will)

+14 vs AC; 9 damage

Alignment Unaligned

Languages –

Str 20 (+11)

Con 20 (+11)

Dex 16 (+9)

Int 2 (+2)

Wis 14 (+8)

Cha 8 (+5)


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Building Woodstock (Part 1 of ?)

In my last post, I discussed the possible development of a fictionalized city for a modern fantasy game Angela and I are planning on running. We've tentatively decided on Woodstock, NY - in a world where the 1969 festival brought on a population boom to the area.

The problem, of course, is that Woodstock wasn't in Woodstock. The festival was held in Bethel, NY about 70 miles away. It was named Woodstock because the planners wanted to cash in on the mystique of the artsy town where Bob Dylan lived. Dylan, of course, didn't even perform.

But what if he did? What if the partners in Woodstock Ventures had approached him early on and he'd gotten on-board, possibly buying some farmland around Woodstock, itself, to host the festival on?

What if the town of Woodstock got behind the festival - providing logistical support and infrastructure - as opposed to trying to undermine it like the locals actually did?

What if the approximately 400,000 people who descended on upstate New York that weekend - people who were treated as second-class citizens in most parts of the country - were welcomed with open arms. What if they had found sturdy, temporary housing for festival-goers that wasn't going to be taken down anytime soon? How many of them would stay?

Could Woodstock have undergone a population boom? Could we have seen an influx of investment into the area? Maybe the founding of a liberal arts college or music school?

Mayor Dylan?

Monday, August 18, 2008

Life in the Big City

As I mentioned in my last post, Angela and I are planning on running a modern fantasy game.

We're not sure where to set it, though.

Here are some criteria:
  • It should be a city conveniently located to a large portion of North America (having a major airport would cover this).
  • It should be fairly large (at least a million people in the metropolitan area).
  • It should have significant underground and/or forgotten places (subways, abandoned warehouses or factories, burnt-out buildings).
  • It should have some interesting/distinctive flavor.
I always have some issues setting games in established real-world locales. Player knowledge has a tendency to intrude, and that's not something I want to deal with... so I'm leaning toward places with which my probable player-base is unfamiliar. Unfortunately, this means that I am likely unfamiliar with these places as well. I suppose I could use New Orleans or D.C. (places I've lived), but I'm not sure if either of those are right for this. Maybe. Angela and I were talking about Pittsburgh last night. That's a possibility (it has cool geography, abandoned steel factories and mines, and the Cathedral of Learning), but I've only spent a couple of weeks there (over 15 years ago), and she's never been there. (The Cathedral of Learning isn't incredibly relevant, but it is pretty cool.)

Make up a fictional city, borrowing from real ones (and various things seen on weburbanist)? Maybe. It isn't an option I considered until just now. Perhaps I'll suggest it to her tonight.

Any suggestions? Let me know where you've set modern urban games and how its worked...

A Weekend in Indianapolis

I have come to believe that Indianapolis doesn't believe in signage.

This is unfortunate.

Really, it only interfered once. Finding our way in and out of the Embassy Suites to attend the Goodman Games seminar on adventure design was an adventure in itself. It was like we got to attend the True Dungeon for free!

...except not fun.

Other than that, Gen Con was pretty good, though I didn't get to spend enough time there and hadn't really planned enough.

Time was spent in the exhibit hall. I picked up a copy of Spirit of the Century. Finding fudge dice to use with it was a bit of a challenge, but the folks at the IPR booth helped me to track them down. I chatted a bit with Jerry at the Khepera Publishing booth. Grace has done some art for them, and their new book, Hellas, looks beautiful. Angela picked up some art from Devon Schiller, whom she'd met in the art show last year (specifically, a ceramic tile printed with this). She also raided the bins of cheap D&D minis for her campaign.

I attended the aforementioned seminar on module design. It wasn't bad, but it devolved into people asking for GMing advice... and one guy who kept telling us about the campaign he was running. I didn't care about his campaign. At all.

I also went to the rpg blogging seminar, which was cool. Among other things, I determined that I really need to start using stumbleupon and digg and things like that.

Other than that, there was a lot of people-watching (including some of the costume contest), some boardgame-playing, running into friends (including two who just got engaged at Gen Con), and things of that sort.

Good times.

Sunday, we went to the Indianapolis Zoo, and I got to hang out with lemurs and otters and donkeys. Yay.

In the car, Angela and I totally reworked the game that we've been planning on co-GMing. I'd been having some serious hang-ups about it, so we scrapped a lot - including the setting - and moved back toward something like what she'd originally been thinking, and which I think I will be happier with: we are still refining it, but it looks like the game has gone from post-apocalyptic to modern fantasy and will exist somewhere within the triangle defined by (1) Hellboy II, (2) the X-Files, and (3) Neverwhere. We might toss a bit of Men in Black in there for flavoring. We'll see.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Gen Con Plans

It looks like we'll probably head over to Indy late Friday night, hit Gen Con on Saturday, and take in the Indianapolis zoo on Sunday.

Seminar-things I want to make sure I attend at Gen Con:
RPG Bloggers Unite! 1PM Sat
How to Write Adventures Modules that Don't Suck 9pm Sat

If convenient, I might go to the Freelancing for Dungeons & Dragons (6pm Sat) seminar, also.

It is too bad we couldn't do the entire thing. Angela would have liked to be able to attend the seminar on How to Become a Professional Miniature Sculptor that is being held tonight... and it would have been nice to, you know, actually be able to sign up for some games. Also, I'll miss the ENnies. Wah.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Carnival Post: There goes the Zombiehood...

The Undead

I don't use a lot of undead in my games.

There are a number of reasons for this. First is the zombie issue. Zombies are among the most commonly used undead, but (I know this is sacriledge among many) I don't get excited about zombies. Zombie movies? They can be OK, but only if they aren't about the zombies. I liked 28 Days Later well enough, but I would have liked it just as well if the zombies were replaced by wild dogs or flesh-eating macaws or something. Zombies aren't interesting - it is people's reactions to them that are interesting. In most RPGs, the reactions of people to zombies is predictable. They kill the zombies. They typically do this in a manner very similar to killing other monsters. The difference? Zombies are usually less interesting than those other monsters.

Now, there are exceptions to this. One of these is when the game isn't really one in which zombies are expected. I'm currently playing in a near-future Morrow Project game (using White Wolf's newish Storytelling system). Our PCs woke from cold sleep 150 years from now to a future laid waste by nuclear and biological warfare. One of the bio-weapons had, effectively, made people into zombies. These were the first people we encountered upon waking, and - for a while - we didn't know for sure if there were any others. It was alienating and scary. Another exception is when the zombies were once people your PC knew or, with infectious zombies, if they threaten people your PC cares about. Threatening NPCs with zombiehood seems more effective than threatening them with death.

Other than zombies, vampires are possibly the most popular undead in use. The thing about vampires? Unless they are the focus of a campaign arc, the fact that they are undead is practically incidental. They are usually portrayed as acting like living people as much as possible... so I rarely see a place where making an NPC into a vampire is worth it. Couple this with the fact that I totally overdosed on vampire LARPing in the 1990s, and I just tend not to think to use them.

Mostly, I use ghost-like undead things. They give me a good deal of freedom, and I can keep them mysterious. Years of playing Wraith: The Oblivion also gave me a good pile of tricks to use when portraying ann incorporeal spirit.

D&D has its own problems with undead. Undead powers that focus on permanent debilitating effects or paralyzation just aren't fun for me as a player - so I try not to use them as a GM. Moreover, I find the 3.5 vampire and ghost templates to be mostly incoherent.

My biggest conceptual problem with D&D undead, though, is the idea of negative energy. I've never liked the idea of Positive/Healing energy and Negative/Damaging energy that work backwards on undead. It seems overly simplistic and a bit silly.

Here's another question, though. Why are undead things near-universally assumed to be evil? I like the idea of a lich who was simply a mage so infused with arcane energy that he didn't notice when he died of old age. The repentant vampire is a cliche for a reason. What about a ghoul who is driven to devour human flesh and raids cemeteries.... but hates himself for it? Non-volent zombies that are near mindless, but still try to cling to their past lives as much as they can? I could come up with some interesting scenarios around such things. Here's one: A village was infected by something that killed its inhabitants and brought them back as zombies. The zombies go through the motions of their past lives, but do so in a near-meaningless manner. Farmers go to plant seeds with empty sacks, scattering nothing over weed-filled fields. Now what if the village is in a valuable bit of real estate. Say, there's a fairly rich mine nearby. Others may want to come in a clear out the zombies - and hire the PCs to do it, not telling them that the zombies are essentially peaceful. Toss in a mystery about how the zombies came to be - and whether a recurrance of it is likely, and you have the setting for an adventure that could have some intrigue, investigation, and moral ambiguity (Need monsters? Give the zombie-flesh mutagenic properties. Animals have been feeding on the zombies and turning into half-zombie mutant things.)

Character Death and Resurrection

When I play RPGs, I see it as a collaborative storytelling experience. I don't go overboard on this, but I want a narrative that I can look back on. One consequence of this is that if a character is going to die, it should mean something. That doesn't mean that death has to be final, but it does have to be meaningful. The death of a PC shouldn't ever be trivial. That doesn't mean that a PC can't die in a trivial way (though I work to avoid that), but - if nothing else - the fact of the PC's death should have repurcussions. If the PC is resurrected, the experience of death should change her somehow. It doesn't have to be a Pet Sematary style change, but it could be a Buffy the Vampire Slayer type thing. Thinking about it, though, I think that at some point in the future I might well run a campaign where people who are resurrected sometimes come back 'wrong' - I'd totally leave it up to the player of any PC who was resurrected whether or not (or how) their PC went through something like this, though.

Carnival time!

A couple of posts ago, I mentioned the RPG blog carnival. The idea? A number of blogs post on a single topic over a short period of time. It is something that tends to happen quasi-naturally. Someone will blog on a topic and it will give other people ideas. The carnival is a bit different in that (1) it is planned, (2) it takes place within a limited time frame, and (3) the responses are all summarized and linked together. It seems like a good idea to me. The first topic (with some guiding/discussion questions) is:

CHARACTER DEATH, RESSURECTION & THE UNDEAD
CLOSING DATE: August 29th, 2008, Last Friday of August.
How do you handle character death in your game? What about character resurrection? Have you ever had characters come back as The Undead? How have you incorporated The Undead into your game's adventures? What are some new Undead monsters, diseases, or other Undead afflictions of your game world can you share with us?

I'll be responding to this in my next post.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Understanding Old-School

The 4e honeymoon is over. There's a lot to like in it, game mechanically, but I can't help but feel like there is something about 4e D&D that disagrees with me.

I'm pretty sure that the bit which disagrees with me is either the same thing or very closely related to that which a lot of nostalgia-oriented gamers seem to find problematic with most new games. Essentially, it is an imbalance between PC abilities (broadly speaking) defined by the rules and those defined via improvisation.

A lot of people look at, say, Basic D&D (I have the Moldvay version right here, for reference) and see that it defines certain things (combat, roughly. movement rates. magic. thief skills.) about PCs and leaves pretty much everything else (all other skills and abilities. clever things one might do in combat. most social interactions and effects of social status.) undefined. To me, this is a bit restrictive. I don't know what it is I have license to do when it isn't covered by the rules... but to many others, the absence of a rule is license to go crazy and make stuff up. I suspect that, somewhere along the way, I had a restrictive GM who liked to say NO a bit too much, while they either didn't... or didn't listen to him.

For these gamers, I suspect that most new games just define too much. If there is a rule that covers when you can try to disarm someone, you're not going to try to disarm someone otherwise... even if it would be really cool to do it. This is, more or less, how I feel about 4e. I didn't really feel this way about 3e (most of the time), but I think that people's ideal balancing points between rules and improvisation vary.

If you consider yourself a gaming grognard, I'd appreciate it if you'd let me know if this is anywhere close to how you feel... because I've been trying to understand the appeal of old-school games and - before this - I couldn't come up with anything other than nostalgia.

As for 4e, it may well be fixable, for me... and, despite the fact that I feel like there is something missing, I have enjoyed playing it. We'll see.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Makin' Whuffie

On Thursday, I wandered over to the library over lunch to return a pile of books. While I was there, I picked up a copy of Cory Doctorow's Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. While I'd read many of C.D.'s blog posts, I hadn't read one of his novels before. I finished it, umm, Friday night, I think.

It was a quick read, and I enjoyed it. Like most good sf novels, it had some really interesting ideas that lurked in the background. In this case, one of those ideas is called Whuffie. Whuffie is, essentially, a constantly-updated weighted reputation score (like karma on some websites - or something like Google's pagerank if applied to people) that not only informs social interactions, but serves as the basis for the economy in Down and Out's scarcity-free future. Practically speaking, whuffie is buying power.

In some ways, we aren't that far away from such an economy today. Image is everything. How things score in opinion polls is almost as important as how well the reality of them sells. People who are widely respected are given free things in the hopes that they will speak well of them.

One of the first things I thought of was that an economy like this would be awesome for a near-future shadowrun-like campaign. The PCs could be operatives who make or break reputations via sabotage, espionage, troubleshooting, set-ups, and blackmail. It wouldn't all be 'breaking' either. Giving PCs the assignment of making sure an event goes off without a hitch - or to come up with a creative way of making their client look like a hero could be interesting. The PCs may decide to work on their own to boost their own reps as well - which would be pretty cool.

I could run a campaign like that.

This also got me thinking of PC adventurers more generally as celebrities, or even reality TV stars. I've never been particularly interested in X-Crawl, but the idea is somewhat intriguing all of a sudden. I do like the idea of equipment-makers seeking out the PCs for product endorsements.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Joiner

I'm not so much a joiner, usually (I still don't have a Facebook page, much less a ::shudder:: MySpace one), but I linked up with this here RPG Bloggers Network thingie. I even made a button for the blog:

See?

We'll see what difference the PRG Bloggers Network makes. I suspect it will be nice for organizing things like the RPG Carnival idea, if nothing else.

Also, it seems like we might actually be going to Indy next weekend for a bit. I think we'll probably just make GenCon on Saturday. I'm not sure what I'll be doing there, exactly, but there is an easy days worth of seminars and wandering if nothing else. Any recommendations?

Sunday, we might hit the Indianapolis zoo. We'll see.

Campaign blogs

I've seen a few GMs with campaign blogs around, but I don't ever recall seeing a multi-author campaign blog involving all the players - where they can post background snippets about their PCs and what is going on in-between sessions.

Such a thing seems like a good idea, though. Is this something that is around that I just haven't seen? Or is it something rarely done...?

I've seen campaign wikis, but the learning curve on a wiki can be steeper than that on something like Blogger or Wordpress... and, really, the time-sequential nature of a blog seems like it would be more appropriate for most campaigns.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Stunt Modes

I like the stunting mechanic in Exalted.

The way the rules are written, almost every action that a PC takes that is described by that PC's player in terms other than game mechanics is a stunt.

Most people don't play the game this way, but let's ignore that fact for a moment. I'll get back to it.

So, yeah. Saying, "I attack him with my sword " or "I try to intimidate him (using presence)" isn't a stunt... but if the player puts even the tiniest bit of effort into description (saying, for example, "I run at him, slashing my sword" or "I glare at him, daring him to gainsay me") then the player gets a single stunt die that acts as a bonus on your action.

The effect of this is that people become used to describing their actions in ways that are a bit more interesting... because doing so is more effective.

Now, there are also 2 and 3 die stunts.

A 2-die stunt is just like a 1-die stunt, except that it incorporates a prop or the environment in some way. You pick up a chair to bash someone with? You swing from a tree branch? You move so that the sun is in your opponent's eyes or cause them to stumble over the ridiculous shoes that they are wearing? These are all 2-die stunts.

3-die stunts are a bit harder. They capture those spontaneous moments when everyone around the table just says, "wow."

Stunts also have a resource-recovery mechanic, but that isn't relevant here.

There are a few observations I want to make. Many GMs (including most of the ones I've played with) essentially ignore the stunt guidelines. They ration out only a few stunts a session, and are picky about when they do it. They see stunts as rewards for extraordinary role-playing and description rather than as encouragement for extraordinary role-playing and description. You can run a good Exalted game this way, but you could probably run a better one if you weren't missing out on one of the cooler mechanics.

Really, 1 and 2 die stunts have fairly objective criteria. Players could self-regulate these without the need for a GM referee in most cases. Three-die stunts are, by definition, inter-subjective... but they are also - by their nature - pretty obvious.

I've also played with a player who was very frustrated by the stunt mechanic. He felt like he had to 'try to stunt' and this caused him to stumble over descriptions and such. I've fallen into this trap before, but it was in games where the GMs felt you had to earn your stunts - and I got flustered trying to figure out what would 'count' as a stunt. His problem was a bit different. He struggled with the freedom of stunting. He repeatedly expressed his wish that stunting used some sort of limited resource so that he could spend it and feel like he'd earned the stunt. To me, this misses the point. On the other hand, he was otherwise a good player and would often stunt when he wasn't explicitly trying to do so - I think it was mostly that he sometimes tried too hard.

I was going somewhere with all this...

Oh. Yeah.

Something like the Exalted stunt mechanic is pretty easily stolen for other games. I was thinking about that this morning, but I was worrying about people like my friend who tries too hard. As a result, I came up with the idea of Stunt Modes. With this idea, a player can pick one of two stunt modes: Steady or Spontaneous. Someone in Steady Mode can use stunts as normal, but also gets a few dice (or points) of stunt-ness per session that can be applied freely to any roll. Someone in Spontaneous mode doesn't get those flexible points, but gets a bit more oomph out of normal stunts. People who worry that they aren't good at improvisation - or aren't comfortable with the idea of stunting yet - can choose Steady Mode and not get left behind - and work toward increasing their comfort level.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Housecats vs. Wizards: Test Case I

You know how in certain editions of D&D a housecat could pretty easily take a wizard?

Well, we had a bit of a test of that the other night.

Jenn (housemate) seems to have acquired a cat. It has been living in her room since July 4th. I have a cat. Angela also has a cat. Angela's cat, Tempest, is odd and goofy and desperately wants to be near the other cats - who really want nothing to do with him.

Anyway, Jenn's cat (whom we shall call Kitten X) is a shy thing who mostly wants to hide in Jenn's room. Wednesday, she locked X out of her room for a bit, thinking it would be good for her. Unfortunately, Angela left the attic door unlatched. Kitten X hid in the attic. Tempest followed her up there. ...and, lo, there was a confrontation.

The cats began making horrible yowling noises that sounded almost human. My cat wandered confusedly up to the attic (which she is normally afraid of) to find out what the racket was. (I told her to go back downstairs and she did.) Tempest and X were all puffed up.

I mentioned that Tempest is odd. I should point out that he tends not to emote like most cats. For instance, he'd never hissed until he met my cat... at which point he decided that hissing was a standard greeting.

Anyway, Angela tried to separate the two cats. She did this by grabbing Tempest - which she'd never have done with any other cat who was acting like him. He bit down on her hand. Hard.

I should point out that Tempest, while not huge, is solid muscle.

Yeah. It hurt her. She's still in pain. She'll probably have a cool scar in the shape of a cat's mouth, even. She didn't, however, need to go to the ER. Given that Tempest is really a pretty strong cat, I think it would be very impressive for a housecat to be able to take out a person in a fight.