seekingferret: Word balloon says "So I said to the guy: you never read the book yet you go online and talk about it as if--" (Default)
Ran a neat D&D one-shot last night. Set-up was that the players were unpaid interns on their first day at a zoo full of D&D monsters. I drew up the zoo map a year or two ago on a previous occasion when I thought I was going to be running a one shot, but never actually ran it. This time when I was asked on short notice to run something I thought it'd be easy to pull it out of my bag, but it turns out I'd lost all prep materials besides the map drawing, so I had to scramble a little to think up some story hooks in the hour before the game. But it worked really well in practice.

In the hour I had, I typed up a schedule and a task list for the interns and embedded all the storyhooks into these materials, which the interns found on a chalkboard in the employee only area of the zoo's welcome center. There were hooks like "Feed the owlbear" and "Sing to the manticore" and "Make sure all the oozes are accounted for" and "Don't feed the trolls" The great thing about this was that it meant that for much of the adventure, I didn't need to advance the plot- the players took over management of the schedule and advanced the plot for me. All I did was serve as timekeeper and occasionally inserted an NPC to stir things up. This suited my natural inclination as DM to not do very much.

There were a lot of hysterical scenes- the drunk satyr in the petting zoo, the lovelorn chimera escaping his cage to seek the lovely hydra, the sphinx needing to be given a new riddle, but my favorite was probably the payoff on a gag from the schedule- an item said "Feed the minotaur", but there was no minotaur cage on the map. The interns ran all over the zoo trying to find a minotaur, but when the zoo's owner showed up at the end of the day to evaluate their performance, he told them "That says manticore"- the unfed manticore who got increasingly grumpy throughout the day in spite of being sung to.
seekingferret: Word balloon says "So I said to the guy: you never read the book yet you go online and talk about it as if--" (Default)
The biggest struggle I had in running a high level 5E game at Philcon had to do with magic items.

Magic items in 5E are completely rethought in substantial ways with regards to game balance. In general, in 3rd and 4th editions, there was an expectation in the math that players would have level appropriate magic items, that this was one of the things that equalized them against enemies. Along with this expectation came the pricing- magic items were priced so that they could be afforded by players of appropriate level, in addition to being seeded throughout dungeons. Magic items were commodified as an integral part of the adventurer economy.

5th edition, with its much flatter level curve, is designed so that magic items are not required to stand up against level appropriate enemies. A +1 weapon is still a powerful item even at higher levels. The general place of magic items in 5th edition is rethought commensurate with this change. Magic items are not actually priced in the DMG, they're not designed to be part of the adventurer economy, and the DM is encouraged to restrict the ability of players to construct magic items on their own.

Rather, magic items in 5E are supposed to be story seeds. They're supposed to be coveted and dangerous objects of power, like Anduril or the One Ring in Lord of the Rings, rather than merely powerful tools, as they are in Vance's Dying Earth or Lieber's Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser stories. The new 'attunement' rules go along with this- in order to gain the benefits of a magic item, one must not merely pick it up and start fighting with it. One must rather become acquainted with the weapon, channel some of your own personal energy into it, and in doing so take the risk that the weapon will be cursed and gain power over you.

I find these rules really exciting, and if I ever get to run a 5E campaign I think it'll be really cool to use magic items in this way, but these rules were a big problem for running a one shot high level adventure in the system, because the players were high level enough that you would expect them to have acquired magical weapons in their adventures, but I didn't want either the timesink to me or the distraction in game that fully fledged 5E magical weapons would have imposed.

In retrospect, upon rereading the magic item rules in the DMG, I have realized that there is another option in the rules which is better suited for what I wanted, which is the weapon quirks table. I could have given the players +1 or maybe even +2 weapons, but given each a roll on the weapon quirks table, which would have personalized the weapons in some minor, inconsequential but interesting way. This would have been, in effect, a lite version of the full fledged 5E magic items rules, giving magical weapons with some heft but also some story hook, and I think it would have been fast enough for me as a DM and fun enough for the players, without distracting from what was already a crammed 4 hour session.
seekingferret: Word balloon says "So I said to the guy: you never read the book yet you go online and talk about it as if--" (Default)
Stonehaven Miniatures has done several metal roleplaying miniatures kickstarters before. They've probably been the best group I've participated in kickstarters from, in terms of delivering high quality product on time and with good communication. Their Dwarven bard mini is one of my favorite things ever. Their new kickstarter is geared around half-orcs. I'm participating at the 5 mini level... Anyone have opinions on which ones I should pick?

Definitely grabbing the Paladin and the Bard. I like the Warrior, might get that. The Monk seems like a good way to stretch my painting abilities.
seekingferret: Word balloon says "So I said to the guy: you never read the book yet you go online and talk about it as if--" (Default)
So we've very nearly finished a scene in my Shtetl Fantasy Storium game, over the course of about two weeks.

If you have a Storium account, you can see our game here:

In general, I'm really excited about it. But I wanted to open a space away from the game for us to step back and evaluate how things are working, so this is an invitation to my players and to anyone else who reads this to comment on their feelings about Storium so far.

Here's my thoughts: I love that it's asynchronous and I can forget about it for a couple of days while I'm busy doing other stuff, and then return when I have the time to play. I liked the way customizing cards from a premade world worked, but I think in the longterm I hope that it becomes easier to borrow cards from multiple worlds and/or card sets and rework them.

I have yet to work out the right balance between offering my own story to the players and letting the players participate in creating the story, but I feel like we're getting closer. I love the characters that my players have created and I'm really excited about the story we're building.

So... anyone have thoughts?
seekingferret: Word balloon says "So I said to the guy: you never read the book yet you go online and talk about it as if--" (Default)
Via kickstarter, I discovered Storium, a software toolkit for running online storygames. There are a lot of neat things about it. It provides simple, universal mechanics for sharing control of the story between players, and for forcing players to make interesting story choices. It will feature campaign settings created by a variety of the coolest and most interesting writers around today both in SFF and in roleplaying circles- Chuck Wendig, Saladin Ahmed, Mark Diaz Truman, Karin Lowachee, Maurice Broaddus, Mur Lafferty, Elizabeth Bear, Ryan Macklin, Ursula Vernon, Tobias Buckell, etc... (And it's not something I've seen commented on, but the list is astonishingly diverse for an SFF community project that isn't ABOUT race or gender.)

But my favorite part so far is the way that the campaign settings are laid out. They're extremely formless: The things the author provides you are cards containing characters, items, locations, potential challenges, with no notes toward how to integrate them. And you have tools for creating your own cards, too. So building a game using one of the campaign settings is like flipping through a sourcebook for cool, atmospheric things to pull into your own game, which in my experience is how most gamemasters build games anyway. Just flipping through one of the worlds I came up with a half dozen immediate ideas for neat characters and setting details to add in, and several of the premades gave me instant adventure hooks.

I just started a game last night with a few friends, in a sort of LOST type setting, and I'm really looking forward to seeing how it turns out.

EDIT: And as a backer I have the ability to invite people to play in my games... so, is there interest in me running a Storium game for some people on my dwlist? It's asynchronous gameplay, low time commitment- I'm unlikely to harass you unless it's weeks between your posts.
seekingferret: Word balloon says "So I said to the guy: you never read the book yet you go online and talk about it as if--" (Default)
Roleplaying update.

I'm presently in 3 on-going games.

Most frequent is an in-person biweekly Alternity game in the Dark Matter setting, which is an X-Files knockoff that we're setting in 1992 with an extremely geeky attention to detail about when particular technological or cultural things were available. I'm playing Morton Johnson, a former AT&T telephone technician who got sucked into the culture of weird things when he discovered a mysterious code sequence bouncing from mainframe to mainframe, a ghost in the machine. He's dedicated to tracking it down and making sense of it, and has allied himself with the rest of the team and with the mysterious Hoffman Institute in order to get access to more information and greater resources to hunt the ghost. He serves as the team's hacker, cracker, mechanic, fix-it man, and far too often, bait. He's been attacked by a spectral panther, a possessed ten-year old, and a crooked Chicago cop, so far, and has come out the worse for the wear each time.

Somewhat less frequent is my friend Alai's ostensibly bi-weekly 1E/Labyrinth Lord/FLAILSNAILS Legacy of the Bieth game, taking place on Google+ Hangouts. Legacy of the Bieth is Alai's North African/Spaghetti Western low fantasy setting, which is really inventive and full of new and interesting wonders trying to kill us. I'm playing Netin al-Rila, an itinerant calligrapher and magic user who's always got a scam or two in motion. I rolled a CON score of 5 and emerged from character creation with 2 hit points, but through luck, some skill, and a lot more luck, I've somehow managed to coax him through a variety of adventures to Level 2. He now has 3 hit points! And 2 spells a day! It's my first 'old school D&D' game and I've been enjoying the lethality of the system, the sense of fragility that spurs creative solutions along with caution. The amount of cockamamie in our plans has been truly astonishing.

And third I'm in an in person D&D 3.5 dungeon crawl that's more or less monthly. I'm playing Temnar Pla, a half-elf mercenary fighter with only one arm and even less brains. His missing arm has a socket that he has used for a swiss-army knife worth of attachments- ax, sword, light crossbow, grappling hook launcher, etc... He acquired a masterwork chef's knife from an orc we killed and since then I've been progressing him toward the Field Chef prestige class, a joke class whose apex is the ability to create meals from monsters that give the eater some of the abilities of the monster. The other fun thing has been a running kill total competition between my fighter and the party's other front line fighter, which has given us plenty of amusement.

The other front line fighter's boyfriend pulled me over after our latest session and told me that she's looking to do more 'roleplaying' and that he pointed her to me as the person most likely to play along. Which is probably true. The rest of the group tends to be more gamist in their approach to rpgs, while my preference is a blend of narrativist and gamist. I've been happily bashing the dungeon crawl with the rest of the party, but I'm excited to see what kind of storytelling we can add with a little more conscious effort.

In addition, I've been poking with [ profile] metamorphage at my own storygame, which I'm tentatively titling The Weapon. It's a game that sets out to hoist the players on their own petard, and I'm pretty excited to try it out. I'm planning to invite a few friends to a first playtest in the next few weeks.
seekingferret: Word balloon says "So I said to the guy: you never read the book yet you go online and talk about it as if--" (Default)
Also, not sure if I've mentioned it, but FFG has a new Star Wars rpg out called Edge of the Empire or something like that. They ran a rather elaborate beta process where they told a kit to run the rough draft of the game, and we've been playing the beta for a few months now.

Overall, more frustration than pleasure, though it is hard for me to say how much is the system and how much is the group I'm playing with. For whatever reason (and by 'for whatever reason', I mean 'because of interpersonal conflict between a few of the players'), the party really has not clicked.

But to try to be as objective as possible...

I'm not a very big fan of the dice pool resolution mechanic. In broad strokes it seems interesting- you roll a set of custom dice, depending in quantity on your skills, and they contain pluses and minuses that cancel as in FUDGE, but also contain 'advantages' and 'disadvantages' that cancel separately from the successes and failures and are intended to represent more nuanced results than mere success or failure. So if you try to jump to hyperspace and roll a success and a disadvantage, you might make the jump but damage the motivator in the process, or make the jump but attract imperial attention from the jurisdiction you just left, or...

It seems like a neat idea to make rolling more dynamic, but where it falls down is that it forces the GM to constantly be making up freeform adjudications. You try to pick a lock and get a disadvantage and suddenly instead of just deciding whether you get into the room he has to figure out what bad thing happens to you in addition. Our GM has taken to just ignoring the mechanic when there's nothing interesting he can add as an advantage or disadvantage, but this is not a great solution because it means that the systematic nature of it is gone. It means he's just adding story elements when he feels like it, as he would without the dice. I think I'd like it better if the advantage/disadvantage mechanic didn't operate on every roll- if perhaps there was a separate advantage/disadvantage die that you could sometimes bring into your pool. By limiting the frequency you could get the benefits of the system without the increase in GM overhead. Alternately, you could maybe figure out a way to shift some of the imagining of advantages and disadvantages to the players.

Combat is lethal, fast, rather more abstract than D20 systems, and a tad confusing to us still. In combat the advantage/disadvantage system is more regularized, with specific bonuses for advantage and specific penalties for disadvantage, so it doesn't put as much strain on the DM's imagination, but it correspondingly doesn't add as much to the game. One thing I like is an emphasis placed on the potential for permanent and semipermanent injury, which is something most systems don't handle well.

Another system I do like is the game's 'Obligation' mechanic, which bakes character motivation into the character generation system and into the storyline construction system. Every session a percentile die is rolled to determine which character's obligation will play a role in driving this session's story. Players can use obligation also as a sort of currency, adding more obligation in exchange for benefits like extra experience or extra money. I like it usually when chargen helps steer your character in the direction that will make the game most fun and tension-filled, rather than merely creating your blank-slate of numbers.
seekingferret: Word balloon says "So I said to the guy: you never read the book yet you go online and talk about it as if--" (Default)
I found a new D&D group about a month ago. They play at a local comic shop once a week. It took a couple of weeks to fall into the social rhythms of the group, and they still make references to other friends that I don't know, but it's been a lot of fun to play.

When Alai had the big conversation about designing his new campaign setting, we talked about the place of religion in these abstract fantasy worlds. D&D has a pantheon, but it doesn't really take it seriously- even though clerics have long been a key part of the game and in 4E the divine power source is an even more prominent part of the game. The Gods are present but they don't inspire much faith, unless you're a follower of a particular deity. The religion of the game is in the background of the setting in a way that I don't think is true to the way people experience religion. And in particular, monotheism is never considered a possibility.

So when I crafted my character, trying to break out of usual D&D ways of thinking about religion was part of my character concept. Kelin Rolfsson, a Dwarven Bard, is a member of a monotheistic splinter sect that believes that Moradin is the one true God.

The rest of the party is more or less normal D&D religious. We have a Paladin of Corellon who has no problem with there being other deities, a druid who communes with various natural spirits, various characters with minimal or perfunctory connection to different Gods... but the insertion of Kelin and my insistence that his heretical (and illogical) religion is a core part of who he is has totally altered the character of the game. When the party camps out in a tavern searching for information, we argue religion. When we're in battle and need to make a moral decision, we ask each other what our Gods expect of us- and whether that even matters.

I told our Storm Warden Goliath that the polytheistic pantheon is a human conspiracy and he responded, "But I'm not human." To which Kelin retorted "So why are you buying into their conspiracies?"

In general, our game isn't very intense. We have a mechanic called 'fanmail' that gives in-game benefits for sharp one-liners that flatten out the deadliness of the game. I can't imagine Alai would call our game 'old school'. But I love the dynamic that putting some time and thought into the religious makeup of the world has engendered.


seekingferret: Word balloon says "So I said to the guy: you never read the book yet you go online and talk about it as if--" (Default)

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