Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Limits on Magic Use

As I may have mentioned, I've been working on a FATE-inspired, d20-informed gaming system. I'm designing it with D&D-style fantasy (loosely speaking) in mind. One of the problems that I'm running up against is that spellcasting is open to abuse.

In the system I'm designing, spellcasting is a skill. It effectively gives you the the ability to use rituals and some cantrip-like effects. When you cast a spell, you roll your skill. The margin of success or failure may make a difference - degrees of success can usually be spent, after the roll, on things like duration. You can buy additional sets of spells as feats. For instance (and I'm making this up as I go along), the feat Fire Magic I might let you use spellcasting to attack a single individual (and maybe a small area) with fire, protect yourself (and maybe others) from fire, start fires, and cause fires to flare up/die down.

I don't want to use a Vancian fire&forget system or import a spell point system. What I do want is something that will keep a spellcaster from casting the same spell over and over again. In combat, it might be nice for the fire mage to occasionally do something other than attack someone with fire, but that isn't my primary concern. I'm more worried about down time. Consider the fire mage who wants to protect himself from fire. What can be done to prevent him from rolling his spellcasting until he gets an incredibly good result?

Currently, I'm considering three options:
  1. Diminishing returns: If you cast a spell with a duration, any subsequent uses of that spell on the same target are made with a cumulative penalty. I'd have to play with the notion of duration here, since some spells that I'd want to include in this - like healing spells - are usually considered instantaneous.
  2. Extra cost: If you cast the same spell twice in a row, the second use costs a Fate Point (a fairly valuable meta-resource). The problem here is what "twice in a row" means. I don't want the healer to heal someone, shoot a fireball into the air, and heal that person again. That's silly.
  3. Fatigue/health cost: I'm generally not a fan of this, but the system I'm working with allows for some flexibility in interpreting damage. It will probably be an option for failed spells... and, coupled with option 1, that might be a significant deterrent.
Any other ideas?

Monday, December 14, 2009

Playing a Cleric: Prayers

I have a tendency to play PCs with religious backgrounds. Playing "the cleric" is a challenge, you are playing against expectations. Other players may expect you to be a healing machine. Your GM may impose expectations from a church - or even a god. If you want to develop a multidimensional character with its own identity, you need to develop a strong concept. It also helps to have some pre-packaged ways of meeting the expectations of others.

Game mechanics can help with the "healing machine" expectations. Newer editions of D&D have spontaneous/at-will healing mechanics. These allow you to develop your character in your own direction while still being capable of meeting the needs of the other PCs.

In terms of meeting the GM's expectations, it is often a good idea to have a talk beforehand about church structure and your PC's role within it. The other thing that can help is to prepare prayers beforehand. Using snippets of prayer can help tie your character into a religious tradition. Just as importantly, the prayer bits you choose can help define your character (and guide the GM in terms of further development of the church).

So, where do you come up with bits of prayer? You can pull things from real religious traditions. If you want to do this, I'd recommend World Prayers. Personally, though, this makes me vaguely uncomfortable. First, I don't want to risk appropriating someone's real-world prayer for a fantasy game. Second, real religious traditions are generally based on faith. In a fantasy world in which priests have direct access to their gods, religions are not faith-based. The sorts of prayers used should reflect that.

So... where would I go to get prayers?

Song lyrics.

They generally need some adaptation, but they can be a great resource. I recommend looking to musical genres including folk, traditional, goth, and power ballads. Keyword searches can also be useful.

Need an example?

Angela is thinking about running a follow-up to her long-running D&D game in which I played a dwarven chef. One of the NPC-types in that game was Mitra. Thousands of years ago, Mitra had been an archmage who set out to save the world from a deluge. He succeeded in his task, but - in the process - accidentally killed a sun god and was cursed with pseudo-vampirism. He became a demigod in the process, but didn't really want to admit that to himself. Unfortunately, the flood that Mitra stopped was necessary to cleanse the world, and without it poison was slowly killing everything. The sun god had also functioned as a tether to the Elemental Plane of Water - without which the world was messed up in a planar sense. We mostly dealt with Mitra followers, but the climax of the game involved us convincing him to undo what he had done by rebuilding a tether to the water plane and raising a power to take the place of the sun god he'd killed.

In the new game that Angela will run (which will take place a couple of hundred years later), I'm thinking of playing a cultist of Mitra. I was brainstorming about what a cult of Mitra would be like. I came up with some phrases in praise of Mitra, like "He brings light from the darkness," and such. Brainstorming, I thought that he'd be associated with darkness, light, and floods. Maybe one of his titles could be The Torchbearer.

This led to me thinking of the Sisters of Mercy song, The Torch (from the album Floodland). Lyrics like

Would he walk upon the water

If he couldn't walk away?
And would you
Would you carry the torch for me?

...could be easily adapted. Prayer snippets could include things like, "When you walk across the water, O Mitra, would you bear the torch so that I may see?" Looking at other songs on the album, I see lyrics that can be tweaked to things like "A million voices called out your name, Mitra, as the waters came rushing in. And you answered them, saying 'No harm will come your way,'" and "In the light of the night, in the dark of the day, I close my eyes and I look your way. I meet the fear that lies inside, and I hear you say, 'It is mine.'"

That's off of a single album by a single artist.

The added bonus is when other players around the table recognize (or don't quite recognize) the source of your PC's prayers.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Rules Hacking: Combat, Reach, Facing, and Areas of Control

I've been working on my FATE-inspired fantasy rules project, and got to thinking about combat yesterday. The ideas I was having were a bit too crunchy for my current project, but they should work as a tweak to d20-based games, 4e, or other games that use a similar minis set-up.

The basic idea is that everyone has an Area of Control (AoC). This replaces reach, attacks of opportunity/opportunity attacks, flanking, and a few other things. The basic AoC looks like this:

The space taken up by the creature (G) is green. The AoC is blue.

  • G gets a free attack on anyone moving out of a blue square.
  • A melee attack on G from anywhere outside of a blue square is at +1. An adjacent attack on G from anywhere outside of a blue square is at +2. This replaces flanking.
  • Reach weapons change a characters AoC dramatically. A longspear, for instance, might give a character an AoC like this:
  • A character can change the orientation of their AoC on their initiative.
  • A flat-footed character has no AoC.
  • Large+ creatures can have uniquely shaped AoC (and take up non-square spaces) to reflect their physiology and abilities.
  • Feat ideas:
    • Most feats building off of flanking, reach, etc. will have obvious correlates.
    • Allow a character to change the orientation of their AoC as an immediate action in response to a successful attack.
    • Allow a flatfooted character to have an AoC of one adjacent 5' square.
    • Allow a character to treat one extra square adjacent to them as part of their AoC.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Using Google Wave for RPGs

I just got my Google Wave invitation today.

Is anyone thinking about ways of using it related to gaming? I can think of some possible uses. Using it to run online games is obvious. There is even already a dice-rolly-thing. For people (like me) who prefer to play around a real table, it would still be a great way to record campaign notes and session write-ups. It would also be a great tool for collaborative campaign/setting design.

Any other ideas?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Thoughts about Swords and Sorcery

I've never been a huge fan of Conan. It isn't so much the idea of the setting, but Howard's writing style. I'm not a fan of the florid prose of that age. I'm not a big Lovecraft fan for much the same reason.

That said, I do like a lot of the implicit ideas in the Hyborean/Cthulhu mythos. The idea of ancient things from an incomprehensible beyond... the idea that learning about such things can lead you down a spiral of power and madness. That's good stuff. Also good is the idea that most monsters are human in origin.

Things I'm not as much a fan of that are typically included in such settings include social darwinism and rampant misogyny. Also, while I love the idea of madness and things from beyond reality being a source of magic, I have issues with them being the only such sources. There should be mysteries of the light as well as the dark... and it should sometimes be hard to discern between the two.

I think it would be awesome if there was a RPG setting that strongly supported playing a character who began by studying natural magic, but could be seduced to madness. This might include things such as herbalism, but it would also include the magical/natural laws that govern the powers of the unicorn and dragon. A natural mage could gain considerable power by harnessing these forces. Still, by studying them, he'd find inconsistencies... ways that the natural laws governing magic can be broken. Cheated. Exploiting these could expand his power. Doing so a small amount may not be harmful. Learning more, though, whether through texts of those who have studied such things extensively or through entreating entities that break such laws regularly, would be increasingly more dangerous to ones sanity.

I don't remember anything that really splits the difference in this way between your typical fantasy RPG and S&S-style power=madness. If you know of something, please let me know.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Natural or Monstrous?

In your favorite fantasy game, is there a difference between animal and monster? If so, why?

One thing that bothered me about some versions of D&D is just that distinction. Druids, for instance, could speak with animals. Could they speak with Owlbears? Displacer Beasts? Stirges? My understanding was that they generally could not... because these were monsters rather than animals.

There are (at least) two things that I can think of that might validly differentiate between monster and animal:
  1. Intelligence and instinct: Animals are ruled by instinct, are possessed of sub-human intelligence, and are generally incapable of using language. Monsters violate at least one of these. They might have cruel natures that are malevolent rather than instinctual.
  2. Origin: Animals evolved or were created in a process (possibly divine) that ensured they would be in harmony with the natural world. Monsters violate the natural order. They might be from another plane of existence where the laws of nature are different. They might be the result of magical experimentation. They might be the creation of a malevolent god.
In D&D, though, the main distinction seems to be that animals are things which exist (or, maybe, could exist) in the real world, while monsters aren't. Given a point of view within the game world, though, this makes no sense. How is a druid supposed to know that stirges don't exist in the real world? On what basis does he judge it unnatural?

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Shadowrunning the Dungeon

I've only played Shadowrun a few times. Most of them have been with the same group of people. Our playstyle focused upon extensive recon and planning, and - while that style of game might annoy some people - I enjoyed it quite a bit.

Yesterday, I got to thinking about how that playstyle could be merged with a dungeon crawl. It doesn't seem that far off. Many Shadowrun adventures involve breaking into and stealing things from office buildings, factories, warehouses, or mansions. Those aren't that different from dungeons, are they?

Well, sort of.

In published adventures, dungeons tend to be closed systems (or close to it). They don't do a lot of business with the outside. They don't receive deliveries. The inhabitants don't all go out to lunch on reliable schedules, much less go home at night. There aren't phone lines, power lines, or data lines that can be tapped into and monitored. They often aren't visible from surrounding building - or even the air. There are very few ways to gather effective intelligence on them.

Moreover, characters going into the dungeon generally have a "clear it out" mentality. Even if they've been hired to retrieve something specific from the dungeon, the genre conventions suggest that the real reward they receive will be from killing the dungeon inhabitants and taking their stuff. In Shadowrun, the monetary reward that Mr. Johnson was offering was usually enough to motivate us. There was a job to do. We go in, do it, and get out. If we happened to see something shiny on the way and grab it, that was gravy.

For this style of play would work with a dungeon, we'd, therefore, need:
  • Multiple possible methods of gathering intelligence on the dungeon. Tavern rumors don't really cut it.
  • A specific goal within the dungeon.
  • Motivation to complete that goal that, on its own, makes the dungeon delve worthwhile.
These aren't things that the typical dungeon adventure has, but they could be.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

After Hiatus

Today was my first gaming session in almost two months. It was good.

Angela and I joined a game that an old friend of mine has been running once a month or so. The system is First Edition AD&D, more or less. Definitely not my first choice for a system. Incoherent and random.

The game premise: all the PCs are amnesiac extraplanar semi-humans. They are running around somewhere near the Temple of Elemental Evil (and might come across it). I was told that the game included a Satyr Kensai, a Half-Dragon Cleric, a Wemic Ranger, a Half-Pixie Thief, and a seemingly-human Monk. A former character was, apparently, a centaur whose hindquarters were those of a Nightmare. I was challenged to come up with something sufficiently weird. I settled on a Half-Slaad Psionicist. Angela decided on a Dire Corby Thief.

The game was not precisely serious. That was perfectly fine by me.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Alchemists in RPGs

There are few fantasy RPGs that have a really interesting way of playing an alchemist. Most of them require a tremendous amount of forethought and bean-counting as you buy and construct your alchemical creations ahead of time. D&D is among the most egregious of these.

I like the idea of playing an alchemist, but that's not the way I want to play it.

Here's the sort of alchemist I want to play:

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Dungeons and Dragons Sodas

As I posted on my other blog, Jones Soda recently announced that they are partnering with Wizards to create D&D-themed sodas.


I have to wonder whether these will actually be tasty... or if they'll be more along the lines of the Jones Thanksgiving flavors.

What do you think Illithid Brain Juice tastes like?

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

It all comes together

I've mentioned that I've been mulling the idea of a FATE/d20 hybrid. Today, I had a breakthrough. It was one of those things that seems obvious in retrospect...

In FATE combat, you can use a maneuver during an attack. Instead of inflicting stress (damage), a successful maneuver allows you to place a temporary aspect upon your target... or generate an effect of some sort. You can, for example, disarm or move an opponent with a maneuver.

In d20, there are a lot of special moves that you can do in combat. In Pathfinder, these are all called combat maneuvers. These include things like grappling, disarming, feinting, tripping, etc. d20 also has conditions. Some conditions are more or less extreme versions of each other (such as sickened and nauseated).

The breakthrough I had was to use FATE maneuvers not only to replace combat maneuvers, but to do it by imposing conditions. Essentially, a maneuver will allow a PC to place a condition on a target. An extraordinary success will allow a more extreme version of that condition to be placed on the target. Tagging an aspect will have the potential to do likewise. This also works well with stunts (or feats or whatever). An intimidation stunt/feat might make it easier for a PC to place a more extreme version of a fear-based condition on a target.

The problem is that the conditions aren't particularly balanced. I'm not a huge stickler for balance, but I certainly don't want there to be a clearly superior combat strategy in all situations.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Firefighter RPG?

RPGs often let you take the role of heroes. We see RPGs that support different sorts of heroes: fantasy adventurers, super-powered do-gooders, elite military teams, cowboys... yet, despite the fact that they have pretty good hero-cred, I don't think I've ever really seen a RPG that focuses upon firefighters or search and rescue teams. The closest I can think of is Unsung - I should break out my copy and see if it explicitly supports such things.

A firefighter game would be weird. Your antagonists would generally not be other people... or even living beings. Could your run a satisfying game in which the struggle was against time and the environment? Probably. Unsung, with its emphasis upon morality under pressure, would probably be a good choice. It would definitely be a different sort of game than I am used to, though...

Thursday, September 03, 2009

I'm Back

We're settling in to the new apartment in Takoma Park. Setting up a gaming space was, of course, a concern, and I think we did pretty well. We have a table that can expand out to seat up to ten people, and a nearby bookcase that holds our gaming books.

Now we just need to find people to game with.

In the meantime, I am hereby promising more frequent updates, and I leave you with a rabbit:
Apparently, when you see the scary doll in the antique store, you are not supposed to take it home with you. I'm not sure why Angela waited to tell me this until after I bought it.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Have a Dungeon Map

Happy Friday.

The Ennie Awards

I voted. Did you?

I'm not going to tell you who to vote for, but I will mention that Hellas: Worlds of Sun and Stone is up for both the Interior Art and Best Production Values. A friend of mine is one of the two artists who worked on the book, so I might be biased when I say that it is one of the most gorgeous gaming books I've seen. Check out the download section of their website for some samples and decide for yourself.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Looking for Group

Not yet, precisely.

Angela and I are moving to the D.C. area soon. Very soon.

This is the primary reason that I haven't been posting much lately. I've been busy.

I know a good number of gamers in the D.C. area. I know that there are a large number of RPG blogger-types there as well.

Since I last lived in D.C., though, I've become more aware of how important it is to game with people who have gaming styles compatible with your own. I don't see myself putting up a "Looking for Group" sign at Dream Wizards, but it has been some time since I've had to actively look for people to game with...

Any advice?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Coming to an End

Sunday was the last game in our Woodstock campaign. The campaign was set in an alternate Woodstock, NY... in a world in which Dylan collaborated with the concert organizers and Woodstock was actually, well, held in Woodstock. In the game-world, a lot of people actually stayed there, and Woodstock is now a thriving city.

The game was in the urban fantasy genre. Specifically, it featured faeries... which were very loosely defined to include things like lake monsters and bigfoot. We used a modified version of FATE rules (from Spirit of the Century) to run it.

I'll write more about the setting in another post. I want to write about the end of the campaign.

Angela and I were co-GMing the game. This was both good and bad.

The Good: Planning was fun. It was great to have someone to bounce ideas off of... and to remind me of things I forgot. In play, it was nice to be able to split the PCs up without forcing some of the to sit around and wait.

The Bad: We weren't telepathic. The style of game we both prefer depends on a lot of improvisation... and neither of us felt fully free to improvise wildly for fear of stepping on the toes of the other.

Ultimately, I found running games to be frustrating. A big part of what I like about GMing is the improvisational aspects.

Right. The end.

It wasn't the end we'd planned on. We planned out a conspiracy that the PCs would gradually discover. We even had our own Cigarette Smoking Man (a bigfoot). Unfortunately, we ran out of time. We were alternating weeks with Jenn's D&D game (which I'm enjoying a lot), and we have an impending move coming up (we're headed to DC). We realized we'd never have time to fully develop what we wanted to develop.

On the other hand, we didn't want to leave the players hanging. (When we last left them, they were dressed as Power Rangers and mock-fighting a faerie-pleisiosaur named Tatoskok in an abandoned rock quarry.)

So we changed the ending. We expected the new ending to take two games to wrap up. It took one (but we ran later than normal). I hope it provided some closure. We let the PCs beat up on some villains who had escaped them early on. They revealed their boss (who they'd be frustrated with) as a traitor (or at least a slave to a faerie noble) after rescuing him from kidnappers. One of the PCs ended up controlling an army of ghosts (through some manuevering that we totally didn't see coming). The others gained a new-found purpose.

It certainly wasn't a bad end... but I still feel a bit of regret for what didn't happen...

Thursday, June 18, 2009

D&D 3.5: All About The Future?

A friend of mine who I game with regularly recently made an observation about why he prefers 4e to 3.5. Third edition, he noted, was all about the next level. When people build 3.5 PCs, it is often with an eye toward a particular prestige class or feat combination that the PC won't have for some time. Some people, when they create a PC, set out and create an entire 20-level plan. He claims this isn't really the case with 4e due to the incremental change between levels.

In general, I agree with his observation. I find that when I am playing 3.5 at low level, I am sometimes frustrated because I am not yet playing the PC that I want to play. 3.5 is a game of options, and those options are pointless if you don't get to use them. On the other hand, I do like mechanical rewards. I like it when my character gets a new ability that makes a dramatic difference.

Is it possible to get the best of both worlds with 3.5? Maybe.

Option 1: Run 3.5 starting at level 5 or so. This is when most PCs start coming into their own - they get signature abilities (Druidic wildshaping, Paladin's warhorse, Wizard's fireball...) and begin qualifying for prestige classes.

Option 2: Run 3.5 with fast leveling. Level up every game or so until you reach level 5ish. This can give players a taste of low-level play without getting stuck in it. The problem is that some people may not want to go through the leveling of their PCs each game - it can be a bit of work.

Option 3: Use a faster feat progression. Letting PCs take more feats can let them try out more of the options built into the game. There are some problems with this. It messes with CR - the PCs end up being more powerful than their level would indicate. It also doesn't solve the actual problem - many feats that players will want won't be available until the prerequisites are met at a higher level.

Option 4: Build the advancement scheme into the game's backstory/plot/cosmology/whatever. This can work... and be interesting... but it requires a good bit of work on the part of the DM.

Option 5: (which can be related to option 4) Take away player choice. This should be done only if all the players know what they are getting into and are cool with it... but it would certainly be possible to run a 3.5 game where character advancement choices are taken out of the hands of the player running a PC. Perhaps all players vote based on a PC's actions on what class that character's next level should be in, what skills they should advance, what feats they take, etc.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

FATE 20?

I love Fate. I think that it is one of the better RPGs out there. Why? Because of the interplay between Aspects and Fate Points. They give you a tremendous ability to define your character and play the character that you want to play.

The rest of the system, though? It's OK. I don't love the skill system or the FUDGE die mechanic. There's no advancement system to speak of. Combat can be awkward (though I like consequences and how they interact with aspects/fate points).

I've been toying with the idea of merging the bits of Fate that I like with a simplified d20-type system... perhaps a Mutants and Masterminds derivative.

Some thoughts toward this:
  • I can easily see consequences as the result of failed damage saves.
  • Remove Ability Scores altogether. Let Aspects serve those purposes.
  • Move to a d20 Modern style talent tree or a wholly feat-based system. Not both. We'll already have skills and aspects, we don't need another extra axis.
  • Classless and quasi-level-less like M&M.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Easier PDF reading on laptops and netbooks

I know a lot of people use wee-PCs at the gaming table. Today, via Lifehacker, I found EeeRotate. This is a tiny program that does one thing. It sets up hotkey combinations to rotate your screen by 270 degrees (and back). Suddenly, your netbook can be turned sideways and you have a full-page display for viewing PDFs.


This was designed specifically for the EeePC, but it should work with any PC. If works just fine on my HP Mini. I showed it to Angela and she asked me how I liked my new Kindle.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Its Just A Game, Part II: Emotional Insulation and Player Characters

This is something of a follow-up to my last post.

There have been times, in the past, when I've become too emotionally wound up with a character I've been playing. This happened more often when I was involved in LARPing where the immediacy and direct correlation between a player and PC was particularly strong. My playing style involves a degree of identification with my character. I still sometimes get upset if bad things happen to my PC that I didn't want to happen. With a few exceptions, character death is no fun for me.

Now, I tend to deliberately play PCs who themselves aren't upset when bad things happen. They may be exceptionally stoic, composed, or flippant... but just as often they don't perceive the bad things in a normal way.

In Nobilis, for example, I am essentially playing a spirit of chaos and secrecy. He had his life threatened in game recently. It was about as credible a threat as possible, and the reason for it was based solely on his identity. This might have bothered me as a player more, but my character responded by focusing on the novelty of the situation. He took the threat seriously, but more of as a challenge and opportunity than as something to be upset by.

Another character I played (in a different game) was insulated by a combination of an overdeveloped sense of his own capability/invinceability and, ummm... self-medication via magical drugs.

These are extremes, though. I'm currently playing in two 3.5 games. In one, I play a religious monk - he takes solace in his faith and asceticism. In the other, I play a gnomish beguiler who has been in training for a life of adventuring. He accepted the risks a long time ago, and has some particular drives to fall back on for inspiration. In a third game (Morrow Project using WoD rules), my character is sort of an ass. He's extremely well-composed, which helps... but he also probably deserves whatever he gets.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

It's just a game

It is a trite sentiment that annoys some people, but it is true... and important to remember.

How many people have ever gotten upset or angry while roleplaying... enough to ruin your fun? Of those remaining, how many have ever been part of a roleplaying session that was derailed when someone got upset or angry? If you don't fall into either of those categories, I suspect you either haven't been roleplaying much or you have been very lucky.

Back in the late 1990s, I was heavily involved in Vampire LARPs. There was a good bit of out-0f-character politicking, backbiting, and stress for many of those with whom I played. I wasn't immune to it. It took me moving halfway across the country and having some other roleplaying experiences to really get some perspective on what I'd been involved with. Gaming had become a responsibility rather than a recreational activity. It was a social outlet, but I didn't actually like some of the people that I was socializing with (not a surprise with a huge group). Was I having fun? Sometimes. Was it an efficient producer of fun? Not really.

Since I moved away, I have changed the way I approach gaming. If I don't enjoy a game, I don't play in it. That seems like a no-brainer, but it is a rarer attitude than I think it ought to be...

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Great GMing Advice

Sometimes the best GMing advice isn't directed at GMs. Applied Game Design is a blog about game design in general. It rarely (if ever) focuses on tabletop RPGs. Today's post, though, provides advice on level docs for a computer RPG. Most of it is spot on for designing tabletop RPG encounters (and dungeons). Read it. It's worth it.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Inspiration: Pandemonium by Daryl Gregory

I just finished reading Daryl Gregory's first novel, Pandemonium. Pandemonium is a story set in a world much like our own, but for the presence of body-hopping demons that embody archetypes of the collective unconscious and human imagination. The demons usually have fairly restrictive goals, and they possess people (usually people who fit a particular profile) in order to fulfill those goals. For example, one of the demons is known as The Truth. It usually possesses a man who meets certain physical criteria, dresses in a trenchcoat and fedora and guns down liars with twin .45s. The Little Angel possesses young girls with long hair in ringlets (thing Shirley Temple), and brings death to those who are dying and in pain. Not all the demons are necessarily killers, and some of them are able to transcend their narrow goals and become essentially human-like in their personality.

It struck me that these would, potentially, make pretty cool PCs in a roleplaying game. The demons aren't too far off from the avatars of Unknown Armies in the sense that pretty much any avatar could be a demon. On the other hand, they function somewhat differently. I've been tossing around some ideas on how the demons could be modelled in an RPG. The setting calls for something rules-lite and focused on things other than combat. I think there's some potential in using a FATE-like system, representing the demons with a set of floating Aspects.

The book is really good.It has good pacing, interesting characters, and sets up a compelling world and cosmology. If you enjoy Unknown Armies (or modern dark fantasy in general), you should definitely read it.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Netbook at the gaming table

Recently, I've acquired a netbook. In particular, I got an HP Mini (I got one with a solid state drive, but the one linked looks like a really good deal). I love it. It is small and light enough (about 2 lbs.) that I can toss it into my bag with my gaming books and not notice the weight. The keyboard on this thing doesn't have tiny keys. The screen is small, yes, but at 10" it isn't too tiny, and the processor has more than enough power for running anything I'm likely to do on it. It is a great little machine. At less than $400, it was a great buy.

It is definitely small enough to use at the gaming table without it getting in the way. It doesn't even have the 'wall' effect that a larger notebook PC would have.

The question? What can I use it for?

So far, as a player, I've been keeping my character sheets on it. I've bookmarked some Wikipedia (and similar) pages of interest to my characters (things that they are more knowledgeable about than I). I've bookmarked important pages on d20srd.org.

As a GM, I've also been using it to collect pictures and such - visuals to show the players.

Any other ideas?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Awesome resource for historical games

Do you ever run games set in the last 100 years or so? WWI, WWII, the 1980s... pulp games set in the 1930s?

If so, check out Google News Timeline. You'll thank me.

I've been waiting for something like this for some time....

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Free Online Game Design Class

Interested in learning more about game design? Head over to Game Design Concepts, where Ian Schreiber (who teaches college-level game design) will be offering a free on-line course in non-digital game design.

The class will run from late June through early September. There are some costs associated with it if you want to get the full experience - namely a textbook (about $25) and some material costs for creating your own fully-realized game.

This looks cool. I will definitely be following it along at the very least.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Political Considerations...

Yesterday, I voted in my local elections. None of the races that I really cared about turned out the way I wanted it to, unfortunately.

Last night, I started thinking about the new D&D (3.5) game I've been playing in... the game is currently set in a mid-sized town in a human-dominated mageocratic empire. The three main political powers in the town are the Magistrate (representative of the mageocracy who serves in a judicial capacity), the Mayor (the local, secular ruler and leader of the town guard... technically ranked below the Magistrate), and the Priest (the empire is religious - the Emporer claims divine descent - and the church serves as a check on the mages).

My PC is a monk. The GM and I set up monks as a martial tradition within the Church, and my PC is specifically part of the inquisitorial arm of the church (with a high wisdom and ranks in Sense Motive, he's pretty good at that sort of thing). The GM set the local temple up with a young priest as well, but he and I are more or less equally ranked in the church. This set me up as, essentially, one of the political powers of the town.

By the end of the second game, I'd arrested the Magistrate for blasphemy (and nearly causing the town's destruction). His apprentice (another PC) became acting Magistrate.

In the third game, we met the Crown Prince of the Empire (who was travelling through town on his way back to the capital city).

It is shaping up to be an intensely political game, with a likely focus on local politics, which is really interesting. I've played PCs who eventually gained political power, but I don't know that I've ever played one who had it starting at low level... have you?

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Today's Lesson:

Believe nothing.

As a GM, do you try to trick your players? If so, do you prefer to set up circumstances to deliberately mislead player or to you use NPCs who try to trick the PCs?

While I have done the former, I'm definitely in the latter camp. I prefer to be honest and up front with my players (which doesn't mean I'll go easy on them). PCs, however, are fair game.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The 4e Avenger

Someone brought a copy of the 4e PHBII to game the other night. I immediately turned to check out the Avenger. Why?

One of the PCs I've most enjoyed playing is Tarbold - a priest of Tritherion in a heavily-houseruled 2nd edition game with very generous multiclassing. In 3.5 terms, he would have been something like a gestalt cleric/rogue. Unfortunately, outside of the game I played him in, I haven't been able to model him well. Why?

Well, most fantasy games don't do divine/rogue types well. Tarbold was a priest, but he was also extremely stealthy and could backstab with the best of them.

Also, Tarbold was very gimmicky. I played him like a Holy Batman. He had a Rod of Lordly Might that he'd use as a tool as much as a weapon... and a Belt of Many Pouches in which he kept a huge variety of things (from jars of paint to changes of clothing to extra weapons to paste gems) so that he'd be prepared for any contingency.

I've tried 4e, and I wasn't impressed, but the Avenger class in 4e feels a lot like how I played Tarbold... in particular, it looks like it preserves a lot of the flavor I was going for with the character: someone empowered by his god to strike out at enemies from the darkness. That sort of character was a ton of fun for me to play... and it is tempting.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Trap of the Vermin King

As promised:

Trap of the Vermin King

This dungeon is intentionally left system-neutral. There aren't any stats for monsters, and there isn't any firm level of treasure. For an example on how to adapt this: The roach swarms that appear could be normal roaches (appropriate for low-level PCs), poisonous roaches, or even mechanical constructs that inject poison into their victims (appropriate for high-level PCs).

Visual inspiration:

1. The Entry

The entryway slopes downward toward a large, iron door. The ground of the sloped area is an iron grating covered with gravel over a foot deep. Unless PCs are very careful, gravel will fall into the grating below, annoying the roaches that live there.

The door is locked. (moderate difficulty) If the PCs linger in the area for any longer than necessary, the roach swarm (if disturbed) will attack.

2. Mechanical Hall

The western wall of this hallway is covered in gears and levers that appear to be part of some near-indecipherable machine. Inspection may reveal that the device is connected to the doors to areas 3 and 7. If the device is not activated (very difficult) and the door to either area 3 or 7 is opened, the bars in Area 7 are raised, releasing the Roach Golem. If the door to area 3 is opened without activating the machine, the door between areas 2 and 7 will swing open, and the Roach Golem will move toward area 3.

The door to area 18 is sealed, with no lock.
The other doors are closed, but not locked.

Activating the machine or causing noise at the door to area 18 will alert to Vermin King to the PCs presence (see area 15).

3. Mechanical Storage

This room is filled with tables covered in mechanical junk. If the PCs search the junk thoroughly, they may find several items of value.

4. Hall of fungus

This hallway is filled with mounds of fungus, bloated roaches, and a horrible stench. If the Roach Golem kills anything other than a small-sized humanoid, it will attempt to place the corpse in this hallway. The spores in the air in this hallway are hallucinogenic. There is no lock on the door to room 5.

5. The False Prison

The south wall of this room has been covered by scrawled writing in the language of goblins. It is surprisingly erudite, making historical allusions. It is, however, grammatically awful and raving in tone. It describes being trapped in this room for weeks. It describes the room as a square with one exit: a single, locked door.

6. Empty Room

This room is free for you to adapt as you wish. Put something in here that will tie things into your campaign... or just put an orc with a pie in here...

7. Golem Hall

Behind the bars in room 7 lies the Roach Golem. A mechanical monstrosity the size of a tiger, the roach golem will attempt to kill anything living that is larger than a roach. (It will ignore the undead.) If it was released (see area 2) but did not move to attack the PCs in area 3, it will be roaming area 7 randomly. If not released, it will remain still unless damaged upon which it will begin to destroy the bars that hold it (which will not take very long). If the golem was not released via area 2, there will be two Chittering Stalkers (see area 10) here.

The wall between areas 7 and 16 is perforated with several small holes. These holes are not straight, and cannot be seen through. Someone listening at this wall, however, may hear skittering noises beyond.

8. Golem Workshop

This room contains a non-working version of the roach golem, as well as a variety of tools and spare parts. Three small constructs of insectoid design (each of which bears some resemblance to the Roach Golem) are in this room. They are designed to assist with mechanical tasks (and outfitted with appropriate tools) and will attack anyone who causes damage or attempts to steal something here.

9. Feeding Room

This room is full of dried husks that were once corpses. Most of them were large animals native to the surrounding area, but a few humanoids can be found. Eating some of the fresher corpses are undead abominations - Chittering Stalkers. These are ghouls which appear to have once been goblins. They have mandibles and extra limbs which have been grafted to them. Some of these are mechanical while others are the reanimated limbs of giant insects.

Some items of value can be found among the corpses. Some of the humanoid corpses may have been adventurers...

10. Hive Room

This room is the dwelling place of the Chittering Stalkers, and there are nearly twice as many here as there were in area 9. On close inspection, some of these may have once been small humanoids other than goblins.. The Stalkers have built cocoon-like nests and tunnels along the walls, and they can travel through them without being seen. There is a secret passage, accessible only from one of these tunnels, between areas 10 and 12. If the battle goes badly for the Stalkers, they will retreat to room 12.

11. Trophy Room

Both doors to this room are locked. The south wall of this room is lined with taxidermied heads of predators - dire wolves, bears, and even some arcane beasts. Their eyes have been replaced by gemstones. The heads are all animated undead, but they remain still until either touched or until one of the PCs approaches the southeast corner of the room. In either of these cases, they animate and attack, making as much noise as possible. The plaques upon which they are mounted have mechanical legs attached which allow the heads to move along the floor and walls.

12. Arsenal

The arsenal is guarded by two skeletal bugbears wearing war carapaces fitted with an extra pair of mechanical limbs. They are armed with halberds.

The stock of the arsenal includes war carapaces for each of the Chittering Stalkers. If the Chittering Stalkers fled here from room 10, they will have donned the carapaces (which takes them a full round), improving both their armor and weaponry. There are some weapons usable by humanoids in a locked and trapped wardrobe.

13. The Prototype

The outer door to this room is unlocked, but the inner doors are locked (easy) iron gates. A switch in area 15 will open the inner doors and cause the outer door to swing close and lock. Unlocking the iron gates will also cause the outer door to swing close and lock, though this mechanism may be detected and deactivated (hard).

Inside this room is a giant spitting cockroach. The beast is capable of spitting acid at a range of 15'. Its carapace is coated in rune-covered, beaten silver that has been woven with protective enchantments.

14. The Library

The Southwest wall of this room is covered by a bookcase. The other walls are covered in scrawled notes and diagrams. The notes are primarily in Goblin, and a careful inspection will recognize the handwriting as similar to that in area 5. The notes and diagrams are primarily concerned with entomology, necromancy, and mechanics. Most of the machinery in the Lair is detailed. The books are a mix of these topics as well, and are in a variety of languages. Some minor spellbooks and scrolls may be found here.

15. Parlor of The Vermin King

The double doors open into a room of surprisingly opulent furnishings. A large painting on the northeast wall, depicting a regal-looking hobgoblin warrior in formal battle dress (who might be recognizable as a historical figure of moderate importance), swings open to reveal a secret door into area 18. There are small openings in the wall between here and room 16. There is also a switch on the wall just south of the doors to this room that activates the doors in area 13.

If the Vermin King is unaware of the party, he will be in this room when they enter. If the Vermin King is aware of the party, he will wait here and attempt to trap them in area 13. If the fight goes against him, he will command roach swarms to pour out from area 16 and he will retreat to area 18.

The Vermin King is an undead hobgoblin arcanist who has an affinity for vermin. He can communicate with them and command them at will. He carries an exotic throwing blade that turns into a vermin swarm upon striking (or missing, for that matter). The swarm can attack his enemies or return to him as he wishes.

16. Swarm Storage

Without excavation, this area is not accessible to anything larger than a rat. It contains several swarms of roaches that the Vermin King can command. It also contains a significant amount of coinage.

17. Cold Storage

This room is kept very cold via an enchanted stone in the room's center. It contains a few corpses of small-sized humanoids. Most of them appear to have been killed by large slashes (the roach golem?). The Cold Stone is a three foot high stone pillar that radiates a zone of near-freezing temperatures. The humanoids have not been stripped of their belongings. If the Roach Golem is freed (via area 2) there will be two Chittering Stalkers (see area 10) in this room.

18. Operating Room

This room contains a large table in the center of the southern part of the room. The walls in the southern half of the room are lined with racks holding corpses. These racks are mechanized - each of them can extend out into the room to place the corpse it holds onto the table. The control mechanism is located in the eastern corner of the room (the door to area 2 can also be opened from here). If The Vermin King flees into this room, he can activate this mechanism so that all the racks begin quickly extending and retracting, rendering the room dangerous and slowing pursuit. Some of the corpses (all small humanoids) are animated as mindless undead. They may have extra limbs (mechanical or insectoid) grafted onto them with varying degrees of effectiveness. The walls of northern part of the room are lined with tools that range from torture implements to surgical tools to mechanical equipment.

Monday, March 23, 2009

OPEN GAME TABLE: The Anthology of Roleplaying Game Blogs

The RPG Blog Anthology is now available. I'd say it was a long time coming, but Jonathon over at The Core Mechanic put it together in what seems like a surprisingly short time given the work of wrangling so many contributers.

Open Game Table is truly a "Best of" the RPG blogging community. An open call went out across many blogs for nominees, and nominated entries were voted on by a crew of volunteers. I feel honored (and, perhaps, somewhat surprised) to have two of my blog posts included in it. I haven't gotten my hard copy yet, but I've seen the PDF, and the book is impressive. It has ten chapters, with something for just about everyone - players and GMs alike - who is interested in RPGs. To give you a peek at the range of material covered, here are the chapter titles:
  1. Play Style
  2. Game Play
  3. Characters & Players
  4. Monsters & NPCs
  5. Encounters, Settings, and Locations
  6. Adventure Design
  7. Campaign Setting Design
  8. Classes, Action, and Equipment
  9. RPG History & Commentary
  10. The RPG Toolbox.
If you're reading this, you aren't new to RPG blogs, but you may not know the full range that is out there. You can check out the RPG Bloggers Network, but the amount of material there can be dizzying. The Anthology introduces you to some of the best that the web has to offer. It can provide an entry point into one of the best - and least known - resources for RPG material out there.

In addition to material gleaned from the blogs, the Anthology also includes a good bit of original art. There are a few pieces in there that I'm not fond of, but some of it is very good - and my understanding is that most of it was created to specifically accompany the articles in the book.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Reskinning d20 Monk Weapons

I recently started playing a monk in a 3.5 game. The setting is fairly well-defined, and there weren't any asian-analogue cultures to draw from. Monks didn't exist in the setting until I wanted to play them. Then they became a martial order within the church of the sun god that had its origins in a clan of Eagle Totem barbarian-types who were assimilated.

Of course, the special monk weapons didn't make much sense, thematically, for this. It isn't that this group shouldn't have special weapons, but monk weapons tend to be based on agricultural implements... which (given conversations I've had with the GM) fit neither the origins of the order nor their role in the church.

So, instead, my character can use... ummm... monk weapons that have different appearances:
  • The Sai. This does 1d4 bludgeoning damage, is good at disarming and can be thrown. My version? A sun-shaped cross between a blunt wind-fire wheel and a chakram.
  • Shuriken. Small throwing weapons that do 1d2 damage, but can be used as swiftly as ammunition. My version? Throwing needles modeled on eagle talons.
  • Nunchaku. Similar to the sai, but does more damage and cannot be thrown. This easily becomes a larger, differently-balanced version of the sun-wheel, above.
  • The Kama. 1d6 slashing+tripping. This will look similar, with the blade being a stylized eagle's head with a sun pattern and a sharpened beak.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Lair of the Leprechuan

Happy St. Patrick's Day.

The Perils of Dual GMing

Angela and I have been running our Woodstock game together. In some ways, it is very nice to have two GMs, but it can also be tricky. Here are some problems we've run into:
  • Lack of flexibility - You know how sometimes, as a GM, you just sort of wing it? With two GMs, that's tricky. You don't want to step on each other's toes, and you probably aren't telepathic. You may need to take a quick break for discussion.
  • Splitting up the party - This is a mixed blessing. With two GMs, it is easy to split up the party and have one of you take a player or two into another room. Unfortunately, it might be too easy to do this. The more of this that happens, the less coherent the campaign becomes.
  • Splitting up the NPCs - In general, you want to split up the NPCs to be run by a single GM. This provides consistency in NPC personality and knowledge. It also allows you to more or less evenly share screen time. You need to be flexible with this, though. Circumstances might make it more convenient for the other GM to run a particular NPC. Run with it. Sometimes, two NPCs run by one GM will be involved in the same conversation. Pass one off to the other GM.
  • Share screen time -This is related to the last note. If one GM ends up taking the bulk of the screen time one game, make sure that doesn't happen next game: give the other GM the central bit of the session to run. The last thing you want is for the GMs to be bitter at each other.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Undead Arkham Asylum

Over on How to Start a Revolution in 21 Days or Less, Odyssey asked for some inspiration for her megadungeon project. My contribution tickled me, so I thought I'd expand on it a bit.

Years ago, the city was overrun by a wave of madness. We are still unsure of its origins. Some say it was an arcane experiment gone awry, others say that there was a breach to one of the Outer Planes - maybe even the intervention of a mad god. Still others say it was intentional. The problem isn't that there's no one to pin it on. Rather, we had too many suspects.

The madness gave rise to The Madmen. We didn't know what else to call them. At first, we thought they were just eccentrics. A local businessman started acting like a bird. An investigator with the Watch turned his house into an elaborate maze, offering a prize to the person who could figure out its riddle.

Then a gardener poisoned a man for stepping on one of her flowers. The investigator's house evolved into a deathtrap. The bird-man began staging elaborate thefts from his former business partners. Other Madmen (and women) appeared: a burglar who thought she was a cat, a man who claimed to live forever, a former magistrate with a scarred visage, and more. They all had their goals... and the means to pursue them. The city was on the brink of chaos. It was the personification of chaos itself - the man who dressed as a Jester - who pushed things over the edge. He was rode the wave of chaos, seeming to direct it by instinct. If there was a single man who was truly responsible for all that happened, it was he... but he was practically the only one of them who never did claim responsibility.

One man rose up to stop the madness. We don't know who he was - or even if he was a man at all. He would come from the sky, his cloak stretched behind him like the wings of some giant bird - or bat. Some called him the spirit of the city. He was known by many names, the Dark Knight, the Grey Hawk, the Bat, and others. He was feared... and praised.

He disappeared once his task was finished. Those he defeated were locked away, underground, in a special dungeon built to hold them. A statue to him was built to mark the entrance.

The Madmen are all long-dead now, but whatever madness infected them lasted beyond death. Laughter can be heard from the dungeon. Recently, there have been... sightings: a skeleton in a top hat; a ghostly, red-hooded cloak; a walking corpse surrounded by the cold of the grave, a shrived figure - looking more like a scarecrow than a man - who brings terror to the heart of all who see him; and, more than sightings, there is the mad laugh that people know is the laugh of the Jester...

The death toll is climbing. People have reported things stolen and there seems to be patterns in the thefts. Some say that the Dead Madmen are using their dungeon as a base of operations. . .

Who will take up the mantle of the Dark Knight? Who will stop them?

Thursday, March 12, 2009


Jenn began her D&D game (3.5) this past week. The setup is a human-centric post-dungeon society. There aren't adventurers. The world is fairly peaceful under a single human mageocracy. Nonhuman races are marginalized. I'm playing a monk who is associated with the church of Saterus (official state religion). Other PCs include a wizard who is apprenticed to the Magistrate of the town we are in, a druid who lives on the outskirts of town, a fighter who does odd jobs around town, and a homeless guy (a rogue). We're all human, and it is a remarkably balanced party. The game promises to be somewhat political, which should be interesting.

I owe you all a writeup of Woodstock session three as well as a dungeon map-thing. They are coming. Life and other projects have been eating into my time for this blog of late, but I have not forgotten you.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Rising Stars

One of the guys I game with was gushing about Rising Stars, the J. Michael Straczynski comic series. He'd just found his trade paperbacks and had re-read them. I remembered hearing about them, so I asked him If I could borrow them. He was more than happy to oblige.

When I brought them home, my housemate reacted with mild disgust. She was familiar with the series and thought that the characters were one-dimensional and the portrayal of women was outright sexist. After reading it, I don't wholly disagree with her, but I do think that there are things of value to be gleaned from the books.

Generally speaking, the book chronicles the Pederson Specials. It begins with a mysterious, energetic explosion over Pederson, Illinois. All 113 of the unborn children in Pederson who were in utero at the time of the explosion (including one who was conceived during it) developed superhuman abilities later in life.

The premise isn't exactly original. It sounds a lot like Marvel's New Universe, The 4400, Aberrant, and Wild Cards. The story borrowed heavily from The Watchmen, Highlander, and Miracleman. While it wasn't particularly ground-breaking, there are worse sources to borrow from. OK, it also arguably borrowed from Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, which is just such a worse source...

I also thought the ending was predictable and, well, somewhat lame.

The representation of women was, well... of the two main female characters, one of them had the power to be super-beautiful while the other ended up being a manipulative and evil temptress, with what were effectively... ummm... super-mood-swings.

I can understand the criticism there.

I'm not making these books out to sound that great, am I? There were some good points...

The one-dimensional criticism I was less sympathetic to, primarily because there was substantial character growth. Characters began as fairly simple (multiple long-haired bad boy loners in trenchcoats), but developed along with the story. The way it takes a simple, contrived concept and turning it into a more well-rounded character is one of the two things that I think make the book useful as RPG-inspirational reading.

The other is the setting itself. No, it isn't incredibly original, but it does provide for the following:
  • A large, but manageable, cast of characters (113, in this case)
  • Built-in relationships between the PCs and PCs and NPCs (the Pederson Specials mostly grew up together and were all the same age... and were tied together by bonds of family, friendship, and locality).
  • A common mystery (what was the nature of the source of their power?)
  • Common struggles (Specials vs. normals) that provide them with more reason to associate with each other
All of these things are useful contrivances in an RPG, and you could do a lot worse in a supers game than to steal some ideas from here.

Friday, February 27, 2009

FLGS: Armored Gopher Games

Last night I decided to check out the new location of one of my local game stores, Armored Gopher Games. They relocated about a month ago from a conveniently-located, but too-small store to a much larger space on the other side of town.

Even knowing where their store was, it was a bit tricky to find them. They are located at the end of a strip mall and don't have much in the way of signage yet. Hopefully that will change.

I was, as always, greeted in a friendly way when I came in... it helps that I've gamed with one of the owners. (Hi Dave!) There was a crowd in there, which was nice to see. One large group (about eight people?) was playing a 3.5 D&D game at a table in the front of the store. Another group was playing something else in the back. There was plenty of room and no one looked crowded. That was pretty impressive.

Dave pointed out that they now had a (small) used section. That was nice to see. A used section that constantly changes is one of the best ways to get me into your gaming store... because I'll want to see what shows up there. The general stock of the store was small, but varied. It had the essentials, plus a few weird things that I appreciated (including some indie rpgs).

I didn't end up buying any rpg stuff - I really just stopped in to see the place, but I did walk out with a board game I'd had my eye on....

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Woodstock: Session Two

See Session One, here. Jason, who played Joan, had to drop out of the game due to time commitment issues.

* * *

Joan was quickly sent off to brief the other team on the McGee murder case. The other PCs were briefed by Terrence on their new assignment. There's a ghost in the train station. They need to keep it under surveillance. Make sure it doesn't leave the station. If it goes more than a block East or two blocks any other direction, report back. What's East? Something that won't react well to a ghost. (The warehouse district?) The PCs decide to take shifts. Ethan will start.

Evelyn hands each of the PCs a box of kosher salt. If the ghost gets violent, they should throw a handful at it. It should cause temporary dispersal. The PCs are skeptical. Evelyn has a cabinet full of kosher salt.

The ghost appears to be a middle-aged man. He's disheveled, but his clothes are a bit too nice for him to be homeless. He wanders around, showing people a picture of a teenage girl and asking them if they've seen her.

Upon first looking at him, it isn't obvious that he's a ghost... but his coloration appears a bit washed-out, and it is easy to lose track of him. Oh, and sometimes when people bump into him they sort of pass through...

Ethan doesn't like this. He's a scientist. The past day has been a bit much.

Lance and Rory take their turns. Lance talks to the guy. He's not very communicative, but he says the girl is his daughter and she's lost. Her name is Ashley Davidson. Lance looks up missing person records. Ethan looks up death records. Ashley was reported missing three years ago. She was 16 years old. She'd gotten on a train in Vermont (where she'd lived) and was traveling to visit her aunt and uncle who lived outside NYC. She never arrived. Her father was killed within the year. He was in jail at the time, arrested on suspicion of her disappearance.

Terrence calls the PCs in. The other team and Joan have disappeared. Had any of them heard from Joan? (No.) They should let him know if they do. In the meantime, see what they can find out about the ghost and try and resolve whatever issue is holding it here. Getting rid of the thing will be good for everyone.

They take shifts again. Lance takes matters into his own hands and hits the road. He shows up at McGee's house. There's a sign from the police on the door. The sign is covered in blood. He gets out of there, and tells Terrence... who isn't happy.

Ethan contacts Ashley's uncle. Thinking to force a confrontation with the ghost, he tells its brother that Ashley will be at the Woodstock station at 8am the next morning.

Rory follows the ghost as it heads out of the station... toward downtown. It stops people. It grabs at a girl from behind until it sees her face. It is getting a bit more disruptive. Rory tries to talk to it. When the ghost gets agitated, things in the area begin to shake. Rory backs off.

Following a hunch, Lance meets a pimp he knows at Taco Bell. He shows him a picture from a missing persons report. The pimp recognizes the girl as a dancer at a strip club from a few years back. Lance heads to the bar. The girl worked there for a bit around three years ago, but took up with a guy named Ned who worked at Circuit City.

The PCs find Ned's last name at Circuit City. He's the store manager. They look up his address and phone number. One of them calls. A girl answers. Ashley.

They accost Joe. They get him into Ethan's car with a promise of reuniting him with his daughter. The ghost sinks into the seat a bit. Ethan tries not to notice. His box of salt is sitting on the floor of the passenger side. The ghosts foot is partly inside it and there appears to be static around it.

They take the ghost to meet its daughter. It doesn't go well. Ashley freaks. Her father abused her. She's made a life for herself here. The ghost demands she come home with him. He's her father. He doesn't appear aware that he's dead, despite her yelling it at him. Things in the apartment start to spin around in the air. The PCs dodge it while trying to calm both of them down. Rory mediates between father and daughter until there is some acceptance.... and the ghost dissipates.

The PCs have a few days of downtime. They use it to check out the Flower Shop in Albany.

It isn't a flower shop. It's a house on the outskirts of town. It doesn't seem to be all that well-kept, either. There's an open window on the second floor. A big raven is sitting on the sill. The PCs approach the house. The mailbox has a credit card application in it. It's addressed to Charles Redford. The raven calls down to them, "Pizza time?"

Rory realizes that it isn't a raven. It's the world's biggest crow, and it wants pizza. It excitedly calls out for pizza again. It appears to identify itself as Munchie. There's another crow voice up there, too. Then it asks, "Munchie want an eyeball?" No one answers the door.

They go back to their cars. One of them notices that the window is now closed. They decide to get a pizza. Rory takes it to the front door. No one answers, but he can hear the scrabbling and fluttering of birds on the other side of the door with an occasional, "Pizza time!" thrown in. Looking at the door, he can see scratches on it that look like fingernail scratches... and he had a brief vision of a pizza deliverer being dragged inside...

He backed up, nervously.

Ethan went around back. He and Lance break in through the back door. Rory joins them. The kitchen has a stack of pizza boxes that reaches the ceiling. There's a room with a bloodstained tub. The basement is full of bodies buried in rock salt. There's a room upstairs that the crows are in. The door to it was closed. They seem friendly, if creepy. They have small animal bones that they've arranged in patterns. The window is closed. There's a human arm in the corner that's been pecked at. They ask the PCs for an eyeball. Their names are Hungry and Munchie.

The rest of the house is lived in, but minimally so.

They get out of there and report it to Terrence. He says he's heard of something similar out West and will do some research. He sounds exhausted and annoyed. He calls them in, saying he has another job for them.

When they get in, he tosses them a copy of the weekly Woodstock Moonbeam. It is opened to the Weird Woodstock column. This week, it is babbling about Bigfoot sightings. Terrence looks angry. He points to the grainy picture that supposedly shows a bigfoot. "Take care of that," he says.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Name This Dungeon

I make a map. You give it a name/theme. Then I'll fill in some details.

I drew this while roleplaying, and then edited it in photoshop. What does it look like to you?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Nobilis Esoterica

I suspect that everything about Nobilis is esoterica.

We discussed live-action Nobilis last Tuesday, and decided that a proper resolution system would involve plucking flower petals in a "He loves me. He loves me not." sort of way.

This is more amusing if you know that flowers are central to the Nobilis cosmology. As far as I can tell, most angels are gardeners.

As I've mentioned before, I doodle when roleplaying. Sometimes, I scan these doodles and color them. Here are some I did while playing Nobilis:

This is a character sketch of my PC, Comus, the Power of Masks. His chalice is named Excess and his mask is Decorum. He secretly carries the Abhorrent Weapon known as Loss.

Nobilis being what it is and Comus having been a spirit before his enoblement, the sketch is less stylized than you might think.

This is a gobliny thing that I drew when our PCs went to Faerie. One of the members of our celestial family (Jake, Power of Loyalty) was captured by Gwendolyn, a Faerie Queen of Winter, and we went to fetch him... and make her regret her actions. Before that, though, we partied with some satyrs and hung out in a goblin house.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Dresden Files RPG

Have I mentioned how much I am looking forward to the Dresden Files RPG?

Yeah, I know I have. If you haven't done so, you should check out the website for the game. It looks slick, plus it is being regularly updated with sneak previews focusing on possible character archetypes. I'm really curious to see how they are updating FATE for a modern/magic game.

On a related note, Angela and I ran our second Woodstock game using FATE last weekend. It went really well, though we lost a player due to scheduling. I'll post a recap of the session soon.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Stranger than fiction

Want some inspiration for monsters? How about a graceful, translucent angel-looking-amorphous-thing that shoots tentacles out from the top of its head to catch prey. Want something more "traditional" than that? How about a 600 pound duck (realizing that a swan can break a person's limb with a wing buffet)?

Both of these (and more) are real creatures that Angela has posted about over on her blog. She also regularly features myths and legends surrounding various animals. There is a lot of stuff that is gameable (and she will sometimes point this out). She keeps the blog mostly to keep progress of time that she spends on art. The animal stuff is motivational fun.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Non-gaming Website for Gamers: WebUrbanist

WebUrbanist is one of my favorite blogs. It is great for:

...and a lot more. Check it out.

Tonight: Nobilis. Going to hell in a handbasket. Rather... going to hell in a friendly truck named Handbasket who happens to know the way. Cain is driving. Lucifer knows we're coming. We're dumb.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Great gaming tool: YourFonts

I saw YourFonts over at Cool Tools the other day and immediately thought about the applications for gaming. This is a free font generation software package. You download a template and either draw/write the font by hand or create it in an image editor. Scan and upload the template and it gets turned into a TrueType font. How is this useful? Do you have a runic or script alphabet that you use in your game? Make a font out of it. Do you have icons that you'd like to be able to add to a character sheet and your GM notes (like the 4e dice and attack icons and such)? You can create your own dingbat-style font full of them. Do you want to create some sort of arcane glyphs or code-symbols that show up repeatedly through a campaign? This is your tool.

I haven't played with it yet, but I plan to do so. If you try it out, let me know what you think - and what you use it for.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Woodstock: Session One

Character creation took up a good chunk of the evening.

The PCs:
  • Ethan: metrosexual M.D.
  • Rory: modern-day ranger
  • Lance: crooked(?) P.I.
  • Joan: Desert Storm veteran
The PCs are employed as troubleshooters by the Houdini Foundation, a non-profit which concerns itself primarily with end-of-life issues. The Foundation is involved in a number of charitable activities such as hospice care, medical research, and Make-A-Wish-style programs. The PCs, however, are part of its other area of activities. The Foundation employs divination and, among other things, sends the PCs out to prevent untimely deaths.

The PCs are called into the office of Terrence Brown, Director of Special Projects for the Foundation. He's their boss. He hands them a dossier for Robert McGee. No. He doesn't go by Bobby. He's a CPA who lives about an hour away. He'll die tomorrow. Sometime in the afternoon, probably. Brown usually has more information than this, and he's apologetic. The case is urgent, though.

The PCs begin surveillance. Lance finds out that McGee's accounting firm is squeaky clean. Almost surprisingly so. Ethan checks his mailbox. It has a business reply card from a men's fitness magazine in it. He sees movement in the house. Two figures? Rory poses as a meter reader. No one opens the door, but the curtain on the door window is swept aside by someone who is not McGee. He has silver-white hair and too-pale eyes. He smiles at Rory and lets the curtain fall.

The PCs regroup. They plan a bit. They continue their stake-out, and Lance and Joan head to the front door. Lance notices a vase of red roses through the window.

Then there's a blood-curdling scream. They're in the door, and Rory and Ethan aren't too far behind. The run through the house. Reach the bedroom. It is covered in blood. Blood and a Thing. The thing is like a wolf. They make this connection because it's the closest reference they have. It's like a wolf, but it is too big. Much too big. It has arms and legs and they both have too many joints in them. It has no eyes. Its sockets have been sewn shut. It has no ears, just gaping holes in its head, dripping blood. It has a mouth, though... pieces of McGee are in it. Pieces he needed. It also has a nose. The nose twitches, and it turns toward them.

There's a fight. Two of the PCs have guns. Lance doesn't, but he rushes in anyway. Ethan stands in the doorway, mostly in shock. None of them have ever seen anything like this. The thing practically fills the room, so it isn't hard to hit. The PCs manage to knock it off balance and take advantage of that fact. Soon it is so full of lead that it just dies.

They load the corpse into Rory's pickup. They search around the house. There's no sign of a struggle except in the bedroom. No sign of entry, either. Lance notices the flower vase. It's filled with wildflowers now. Not roses. They take the business card of the flower shop. It's odd.

They head back to the Foundation. Evelyn, Brown's secretary, comes out to check the corpse. She seems surprisingly unfazed by this. Brown is upset. McGee wasn't supposed to die until the next day. Something went awry. He's bothered by the beast they killed, but explains that the Foundation deals with these things from time to time. They have another team that deals with them explicitly. He's worried that this thing killed McGee before the PCs could intervene. Was it intentional? He'll send the other team to investigate. In the meantime, the PCs will have to take over its current assignment.

End of Session One

(We actually only got through about half of what we planned for session one here, but that's OK)

Monday, February 02, 2009

What I've been up to. . .

I realize I haven't been posting a lot of late. I've been pretty busy. Angela and I ran our first game session last night, a week earlier than we'd been planning. We had to cram a bit. I think it went well, even though I blanked on the FATE combat variant we were using halfway through the PCs' first combat. Still, FATE combat was pretty fun. PCs seemed to like invoking aspects - it kept the combat from being repetitive and gave an actual flow to the combat scene... something that most game systems seem to lack.

The co-GMing thing is tricky. It would be easier if we were telepathic.

I'll do a full write-up of the session in the next day or two.

Also keeping me busy has been a non-gaming project. I just launched http://kitchenhacker.com. Check it out if you like food and/or cooking.

Thursday, January 29, 2009


As I've mentioned, Angela and I are planning on jointly running a game. We've both been part of GM teams in LARPs, but neither of us has done this in a tabletop setting. In some ways, I expect this will be easier. Communication should be simple, since we'll both be around the same table. That said, I'm wary of pitfalls such as inconsistencies in rulings and such.

If anyone has any suggestions, tips, or warnings... well... we'd be grateful for them.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Let Google create your NPCs

Over the weekend, Angela and I were working on developing our Woodstock game. We had some NPCs that we knew needed to exist, but neither of us had any immediate ideas for details to flesh them out.

Then, suddenly inspired, I fired up Googlism. This is a tool that lets you enter a name and spit out random facts associated with that name by Google. So, for example, let's say you have a policeman NPC named Simon that you want some details on. Googlism will give you:

simon is the best or the happy prozzak page
simon is being transformed ?
simon is back
simon is worthy of your vote
simon is named nlrb deputy
simon is hypocrital at
simon is surprisingly strong
simon is a god
simon is fighting for his life
simon is a
simon is threatening to
simon is
simon is a game
simon is smudge's brother
simon is in the room
simon is still at play
simon is ill
simon is easy
simon is new president of associated students of cuesta
simon is geboren deel twee
simon is geboren
simon is not like austin powers
simon is like austin powers
simon is one of
simon is funny
simon is blessed and hand the cross back to
simon is journalist
simon is a happy boy
simon is laying hands on this indian man for
simon is a doofus candidate
simon is '98 commencement speaker at centenary
simon is missing in a layer of the abyss
simon is terug
simon is the gladiator
simon is being transformed ? june 2002
simon is back ag russell continues to impress me
simon is back post a comment name
simon is worthy of your vote derrick j
simon is named nlrb deputy regional attorney in indianapolis
simon is at 35%
simon is hypocrital at times
simon is a god look
simon is much more than a flatmate
simon is enough of a kitten that his purrsonality
simon is still hot
simon is a rock band and you're not
simon is a killer on the loose
simon is not a well teddy
simon is here
simon is home
simon is new president of associated students of cuesta college
simon is a regular participant
simon is not like
simon is like
simon is one of the leaders of a young group of bulldogs looking to move to the forefront of the wac
simon is so simple and so small in fact that it could be built to fill up less space than a grocery
simon is still searching for an nba
simon is a very simple electronic game
simon is quick with his jab
simon is a megamillionaire
simon is not only a talented singer
simon is moved away from outside the bowers museum where
simon is gone
simon is on cue
simon is closer to god or simon has to rise above the rest of the world
simon is blessed and hand the cross back to jesus
simon is our first dog
simon is clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the george washington university in washington
simon is kimberly
simon is not a walrus
simon is amazed he could dance on stilts like stickney
simon is a guy who just has too much time on his hands and chooses to spend it bothering people through the mail
simon is laying hands on this man for healing
simon is modular and is flexible to configure
simon is the creator of "every icon
simon is 18
simon is the author of over 200 highly acclaimed science books
simon is" google search bandwagon
simon is a sophisticated multipurpose simulator for single
simon is even stronger and more featured filled than before
simon is located on the west bank of the lac
simon is the wise colleague who needs to be on every curriculum committee
simon is not so bad
simon is president of monitor group china ltd
simon is a free swinger who walked just 15 times in 256 at
simon is not a politician ? yet ? not even a citizen
simon is a conservative whose family
simon is characterized by acoustic and south american influenced reworks of many of his pre
simon is ‘the performer
simon is shot
simon is told that jack has been put in charge of the website and simon is in charge of the genetic research
simon is now
simon is er niet meer op woensdag 14 november 2001 is hij gestorven aan een maagkanteling
simon is a successful nebraska businessman with a strong record of creating jobs in the community
simon is wealthy
simon is a character actor with extensive experience across the whole spectrum of the industry
simon is back in chalk drawing land and is talking to the chalk land children about cars but they have never seen what a
simon is approached by the train driver who wants simon to extend the railway track
simon is a great composer in ambient/dub music too
simon is centenary college's commencement speaker on saturday
simon is more than just accommodation
Now, a lot of this is meaningless junk... but you can go through it and pull things out that aren't... and try to make sense of some of the things that are. For example:

simon is back
(where was he? we'll find out...)
simon is worthy of your vote
(he's running for office. maybe sheriff?)
simon is hypocrital at
(sure. he can be a hypocrite.)
simon is surprisingly strong
(that's fine. He's sort of lean looking, but wiry)
simon is smudge's brother
(his brother has a nickname. maybe his brother is a stoner who he covers up for? making him a hypocrite...)
simon is easy
(ummm... why not?)
simon is funny
simon is journalist
(he writes a humorous column for a local paper... or maybe the police newsletter?)
simon is a doofus candidate
(he's not really qualified for sheriff)
simon is at 35%
(that's the percentage of the vote he'll get)
simon is a killer on the loose
(he killed someone in the line of duty. it still haunts him and he thinks of himself as a murderer some nights)
simon is not a walrus
('Walrus' is departmental slang for overweight cops with shaggy facial hair. In Simon's department, there are a few of them)
simon is a conservative whose family
simon is wealthy
(He's from a wealthy, conservative family. OK.)

Now we have some details, not just about Simon, but about how he fits into the police station and his community.

Pretty cool, huh?

Friday, January 23, 2009

Waiting for Harry

I've mentioned that Angela and I are going to be running a campaign now that her D&D game is over. The new game will be a modern-occult-investigation thing. Our inspirations include Hellboy, The X-Files, and Men In Black, among some other things. We have a ton of setting information already worked out. We'll be using a set of rules heavily based on FATE as developed for Spirit of the Century. It should be good.

The only thing that would make it better? If the Dresden Files RPG were available. For those that don't know, this is the RPG based on the Harry Dresden novels (which also spawned a TV show on Sci-Fi). The world is noir-ish, modern urban fantasy. The flavor is very similar to what we're shooting for. Also, it uses a version of the FATE system updated for that setting. It should be great. The game has been a long time coming. Evil Hat (the publishers, who also made Spirit of the Century and Don't Rest Your Head) are making sure they are getting it right. I appreciate that. I just wish I had it in my hands now. . .

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Five reasons why the Nobilis gam I am playing in is awesome

In Nobilis:
  1. My boss is an angel who wears robes with kitschy slogans on them. He is master of those things in the depths from beyond creation, laments the loss of his giant squid, and is responsible for creating Deep Ones.
  2. We pray to Google for information.
  3. My PC walks around with one of the most powerful weapons in the game (a sword from outside creation). He almost never bothers to use it and no one notices that he has it.
  4. One half of one of the PCs has a flirtation going on with Cain, who we freed from Hell (in exchange for OJ Simpson). Also, Cain might be an alien... sort of.
  5. Currently, our PCs are in Faerie, rescuing a teenaged boy (who happens to be one of our peers) from his own libido.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

All good campaigns must come to an end. . .

On Sunday, Angela's campaign came to a conclusion. I didn't really expect it. Neither did she. I knew we were coming close, but I thought we'd have another 2-3 sessions. Fortunately, the ending was a good one. Here's why:
  • It involved major antagonists. Our last combat was actually against Malik, the wizard who cursed the PCs in the first session, starting off the campaign. He'd ordered us killed later on, and had been sequestered in a cave trying to free a mad god from the statue in which it was trapped. There was a race against time to find him and defeat him without actually coming into contact with the statue.
  • It involved paying back a patron in a big way. The early part of the campaign took place in a fairly bucolic, Shire-like area. It was protected by the world's oldest dragon, a Great Wyrm Bronze called The Mabon. The Mabon was going senile, but he served as an ally and a source of (spotty) historical knowledge for the PCs. In the last session, we found he had gone North to die. We gave him another option.
  • The answer was before us all along. The campaign's plot was a bit twisty. Essentially, 3,000 years ago, the archmage Mitra saved the world from an impending deluge by severing a link between the plane and the elemental plane of water. Unfortunately, the flood, and the link, was necessary to the plane's survival. In severing the link he had killed Tra, the plane's sun god (there was some treachery by other gods involved in this) and doomed the plane to crash into Mechanus. Mitra had been cursed with vampirism by Tra. We enlisted Mitra's help to undo what he'd done. He needed to retether the plane, but to do this, he needed a candidate for sun god who was capable of performing an arcane ritual that most archmages couldn't handle. He didn't want to do it himself (and had another part he needed to play in the ritual anyway). We'd spent time trying to find someone to do it. In the last session, we thought of The Mabon. In doing so, we saved him from death and he became a god.
  • It preserved the feel of the campaign. We generally solved problems through diversion and trickery. Our last challenge of the campaign came when Dawn's Wrath, the planar vampire-hunting organization from which we'd retrieved/stolen Mitra's ritual notes, tried to intervene in the ritual, thinking it would create a vampire-god. We'd framed another vampire, Trebonius, for the theft, so they thought that they were coming to stop him (and not the FAR more powerful Mitra). We got warning that they were coming through the portal from Sigil. Our side of the portal was located in a lich's lair. The lich, Dobriel, was gone at this point, but he was a collector of reptillian monsters. We blocked off the side door, so Dawn's Wrath had to go through the monster collection. Then, once they made it through, we mocked them heartily. First, we pointed out that a Bronze Dragon (not a vampire) was ascending. This cut down on their motivation. Then we pointed out that they hadn't done their research... that it was Mitra, and not Trebonius who was involved. This meant that they wouldn't survive if they continued. Then, we pointed out that Mitra was already a god anyway (something we'd figured out... he wasn't fully aware of it himself as far as we could tell). I tossed them a geode (portal key) and suggested they go back to Sigil.
  • It referenced many of our earlier adventures. In addition to the above, we heard about what was going on with the gnomes (who'd we'd clashed with), the bee-people of Death Island, and the Wayfarer's Guild (an early antagonist-turned-quasi-ally).
  • After the game, we had a question and answer session. I found out that The Mabon's well-dressed ogre majordomo was a reincarnated dragon. We learned the gritty details of the plan of the gods who had turned on Tra and used Mitra as an unwitting assassin. We learned the details of Malik's plan and why he really wanted to free the mad god from his curse. We speculated about what our PCs might do in the aftermath of the campaign (we were offered jobs as champions of The Mabon). This sort of decompression is, I think, important.
Now, Angela and I need to finish planning the campaign we're planning to co-GM (a modern fantasy game powered by FATE).