Monday, September 29, 2014

AD&D Dungeon Master Guide's Glossary

While waiting (and waiting) for my roll20 fellow adventurers to open a door, any door. I perused a pristine print of the the AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide. Three things stood out.

1. I forget how neat this book is.
2. I don't think I've ever really read the glossary A-Z.
3. Reading the glossary from A-Z I'm reminded how much vocabulary and words I learned as a 14year kid reading DMG and other game books. E.g. what i.e., e.g., and et al mean. Many more lost to time. Although, I specifically remember looking up "knoll" in a paper dictionary...

On to the glossary entries that piqued my interest...

Ability Scores -- Numerical ratings ranging from 3-18 for a character's strength, intelligence, wisdom, constitution, dexterity, and charisma.
First entry. Simple. Should be part of every newb's introduction to character.

Alignment -- A general description of a character's behavioral and ethical tendencies named by a combination of Law, Neutrality, or Chaos with Good, Neutrality, or Evil.
Take note of  words"general" and "tendencies". People put way too much stock and effort into AND ARGUMENTS over alignment. Was never a fan of five fold path. Less hateful of Law/Chaos with side of Neutrality OD&D style alignments.

Campaign -- General term referring to one DM's adventures as a whole rather than individually. An ongoing series of games based upon a created milieu. 
Milieu -- An unique game setting embodying numerous possible variables in its creation, i.e. the "world" in which adventures take place.
Rarely are these definitions used today. What we call campaign (settings) Gygax (at least in this glossary) named milieus. A word I much prefer.

Experience -- The reward (expressed in points or x.p.) for slaying monsters, winning treasure, and playing the character role. The more experience a character has, the better his or her fighting ability, saving throws, etc.
In some ways, for me, AD&D is Hack&Slash. "If it moves kill it", and "whoring for xp" are integral parts of D&D. Still missed opportunity to have said "overcoming monsters"

Henchman -- A low-level non-player character whose loyalty is to one member of the party rather than the party itself. 
Hireling -- A non-player character hired to accompany a party on an adventure, or employed for some other temporary purpose. 
Hip Points -- The number of points of damage a creature can sustain before death (or optionally, coma), reflecting the creature's physical endurance, fighting experience, skill, or luck.
Ah, meaning of hp. How much time has been wasted arguing over this? When definition has been right there all along.  Coma option is interesting, some threat of death (which is critical) but maybe not perma-death. Although, I've done something like this and options are to not let player play for a while (seriously unfun) or bring them back (really not much of a "threat")

Holy/Unholy Water -- Water which has been specially prepared by a cleric. Useful as a weapon against undead or to slow the effects of poison.
Wait, what!? Slow poison? When, how was that feature lost? Or, has it always been buried here, largely unnoticed and forgotten.

Magic -- Anything which cannot be explained b y the science of the milieu. Any weapon....
Yeah body! Magic is how my fucking red dragon got into into this room and it's also what he eats. Now quit stalling and roll your save vs magical fucking dragon breath.

Persona -- The role or identity of the character the player is portraying.
Hmmm, much better term than character.

Philter -- A magical draught or potion
Another word Gary taught me, draught too, probably potion for that matter.

Polymorph -- The physical alteration by magical means of the shape of a creature.
Is this a made up word, or just archaic, obscure? Various spell checkers don't like it. Same with Scrying?

Trap -- Any of several mechanical or magical devices which may be triggered by adventurers, usually causing damage to one or more of them. Examples are pits, pits with spikes, poison needle traps on treasure chests, etc.
Contrast with...
Trick -- Any device or machination which is more likely to be solved by wits rather than force. Tricks do not necessarily involve physical harm to the characters; examples are rooms which rotate or descend to confuse mappers, statues which perform random actions, slanting passageways which take the party unknowingly to a deeper level, etc
And also

Death Magic, Mezzodaemon!?, Nycadaemon!? Monty Haul and many others are also defined. So is Random Generation. Man was there a time when people didn't know what that meant?

Friday, September 26, 2014

S3M Diaspora Ends, Fantasy Effing Vietnam Begins

Finished up running 4th session of Diaspora Fate.  Some quick thoughts.

  • Confirmed, I don't really like "indie" cooperative story telling. I want to play (run) a game not a thespian circle jerk.
  • I much prefer FUDGE over Fate.  Fate adds aspects and forces the cooperative story telling aspects.  FUDGE by itself is nice rules lite, generic system featuring bell curve mechanics.
  • Games you don't like can still be fun given right group of people.  Inverse is also true.  Which is to say rules matter, but not as much as people.

By FFV I mean, of course, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. Fantasy Flights version which I picked up boxless and cheap from EBay and haven't touched since...

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

DM Makes All the Rolls.

Tldr; to instill wonder, roleplaying, and fear into current Ravenloft game I'm hiding most rolls and mechanics from players. Also, secretly tracking their hit-points.

For awhile, 5+years, my game mastering has leaned towards "players' make the rolls" and "DM rolls in the open", don't necessarily hide monster hp, etc. Some of the game systems I've been interested in supported that, and it was kind of a "thing" in the blogo. The DM rolls in open was to combat/prove no DM fudging and to push "game with consequences" over "railroad with same ending no matter what happens".  Player's making rolls was a "fun" thing. Rolling dice is fun, keep players engaged/active at the table. Player's should have agency (not sure how much rolling own dice provides that).  One system, or several, or houserule (I forget) even had players making defense/save rolls vs static monster/trap attacks.

For similar awhile, I've been largely dissatisfied with my DMing and games, jumping from one to the nest. All seem to devolve into mechanics and spending majority of game time in combat . I've never been supreme roleplayer. Still I remember, DMing long ago 10+years (I've been doing this for 30+years) lots of description of environment, scene, of NPC, monsters, combat, everything. Player curiosity, engagement, attention and really getting "into" the scene/world/game. Spending most time exploring and discovering "the world"

I don't believe it's just nostalgia.  Remembering back, I use to hide my rolls, hide mechanics of monsters, and proactively "deceiving" players as to mechanics (such as randomly rolling dice and appear to be looking something up, describing monsters in terms players wouldn't recognize since the characters wouldn't either). The, perhaps unconscious, mechanical cues were unreliable. Players had to listen to description and engage through their characters to "figure stuff out".

For the D&D 5th edition I6 Ravenloft I recently started, I was struggling with how to put fear into players. Thinking that the root cause of fear is ignorance and unknown. I decided to experiment with (secretly) tracking player's hit points. Damage taken, healing, all of it. Players will never be quite sure how close to death they are. They'll have some idea, conveyed "in game". 5ed rules say first 50% hitpoints aren't physical, in that range tell players they are "fine, maybe little tired". The last 50% I divided into thirds. "Hurt", "seriously injured", "near death" are the general terms I'll use if they ask. Instead of "wolf savages your leg for 5hit points" I'll say (assuming 50% or less hp) "wolf savages your leg". Minor difference, but one I believe will have strong psychological impact. If only for me.

Deciding to hide HP (which I've never done before) is what got me thinking about this blogs topic and how I used to run games. I'm now determined to run Ravenloft in my old style, with most mechanics hidden from players. To take term from Software Development, I'm wondering if "Players roll the dice" is an anti-pattern. Rolling dice, being pulled from their suspension of disbelief and forced to apply mechanics is not how players should be engaged. They should be rapt, actively listening to the scene the other players, including DM, are spinning. Formulating how their character will respond.

I've "outlawed" meta-talk, and strongly encourage incharacter conversations/planning.

  - Hiding and varying monster hit points abilities.
  - Pre-recording AC and keep hit rolls secret instead of asking does 17 hit?
  - Don't reveal save targets, AC, or DC, asking player for their total roll instead.
  - Rolling some saves and checks for players, so they don't know if they have failed or not.
  - Deceive the player, inform the Character. What I mean by this is making, the possibly unconscious, out-of-character cues unreliable. Forcing players to think and investigate through their character.

Maybe this isn't revelatory and is what all good DMs do.  Maybe this isn't what I've been "missing". Although, I hope so. I used to have a lot more fun running games.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Deadly Falls

Most the D&D I run leans towards gritty and harsh. Dirty, ignorant, diseased. More Flesh+Blood and Dragon Slayer less high fantasy. In this type of world falling is deadly and injuries debilitate you. I've always house-ruled falling damage. Here is a version for 5ed D&D.

Feet DC   Damage is cumlative
10    5   1d6
20   10   3d6
30   15   6d6
40   20   10d6
50   25   15d6
60+  30   0hp and dying, 1 failed death save

Falling inflicts an Injury unless character passes a Constitution or Dexterity (player's choice) save with DC equal to 1/2 distance fallen (max 30).

When injured your maximum hit points are temporarily reduced to your current hit points (or 1 if current hit points are 0). And you suffer disadvantage on all physical (Strength, Constitution, Dexterity) attacks, saves and tasks.

Recuperation (from rulebook): After 3 days full rest DC15 Constitution check to remove one effect (injury) preventing regaining hp. Some spells (such as Greater Restoration) can also remove an injury.

If falling wasn't deadly, wizards would craft
infinite jump spells. Nobody wants that!

Sunday, August 31, 2014

RPG (every 10 or so) days

It's a thing ->
But, I can't be arsed to write 31 individual blog posts. You get them in several mass ramblings!

22nd - Best Secondhand RPG Purchase

80% of my RPGs are from Ebay, Half Price Books and used sections at game stores. 

23rd - Coolest looking RPG product / book

24th - Most Complicated RPG Owned

FFG Warhammer. So many fiddly bits, I can't be arsed to figure it out and no one knows it to teach me.

25th - Favorite RPG no one else wants to play


26th - Coolest character sheet

27th - Game you'd like to see a new / improved edition of

FGU - Space Opera

28th - Scariest Game you've played


29th - Most memorable encounter

30th - Rarest RPG Owned

who cares

31st - Favorite RPG of all time

Swords and Wizardry. Old school in one book, formatted and laid out nicely, and heavily supported.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

S3M Next Up, Hard Sci-Fi FATE / Diaspora

Last Sunday we finished the first of my S3M (Six Systems in Six Months), Dungeon Crawl Classics running the published module "The People of the Pit". Started with 0-level funnel and after several deaths the characters and still lost deep underground. The characters got pressed into service by the Moleman King. (to save his daughter, Princess Binky, from the pit of tentacles. Gifted with crab carapace armor and mushroom stalk spears they descended into the pit. After slow start (and a few lost companions) they cleared out the tentacle cultists and located the "people of the pit's" lair. Interrupted sacrifice and saved Binky, which made the tentacles "angry". After ripping the EHP in half they smashed up everything. Once dust settled and players climbed out of the pit, they were greeted not with the familiar rolling hills of home, oh no that is not the DCC way. Instead they peered across the alien, mushroom dotted vista of the Perilous Purple Planet! [Adventure TBC when I get my paws on that kickstarter.

Next session I'll be running Diaspora this Thursday at Dragon's Lair, one five! FLGS, Austin is game blessed.

Diaspora is Hard Sci-Fi (mostly, they have FTL gates connecting worlds) and based on FATE which in turn a version of Fudge (one of my favorites from way back, search this blog for a look). It is much, much more of a narrative, cooperative story telling game than I normally play. One of S3M goals is to stretch gaming horizons, mine included.
"Diaspora is a role-playing game that uses the FATE system to deliver a hard science-fiction framework for adventure, where you build the setting on top of the basic, gritty axioms of the universe: everything is bigger than you are. You will pilot spacecraft driven by fusion torches that light the night sky towards rifts in the fabric of space that shift you between a small number of lost worlds, each with thousands of years of history."

One of the interesting things about Diaspora (and FATE in general) is shared character creation. Diaspora takes this a step further and has mini-game for creating the campaign setting. 5-6 or so interlinked worlds. The history, cultures, and connections created are then used to guide characters history and backstories.

Diaspora has large amount of Traveller influence and I'm really looking forward to it.

Friday, August 22, 2014

5ed Inspiration is the Carrot, How about a Stick?

Inspiration is a 5th edition D&D mechanic to "reward" roleplaying. [You may lose inspiration to have advantage (roll d20 twice take best result)].  I loath roleplaying rewards. They inhibit actual roleplaying and have everyone instead doing all sorts of unintended consequences just to get the reward. Getting even farther out of character and into meta-game land.

Roleplaying is it's own reward.

Chasing after mechanical effects is not roleplaying. It's forcing this bland stereotype "ideal" into every situation until one is rewarded with inspiration. Then they forget about any RP until they've used that inspiration and need to "earn" it again.

I (suspect) not every table devolves into that. But that is the social pressures this rule pushes people towards. Why do that? If people like to roleplay, they'll do it. Given an environment that is conducive and not punishing to RP and it will occur, naturally. I'm personally not much of a voice/acting type roleplayer. But, I do strongly like to be "lost in them moment" to "live in the fantasy world" and not meta-game or break the fourth wall. All these things are conducive to roleplaying. Whereas yelling across table you're at 3 hitpoints and need healing, or mentioning in every other sentence cause you're CE you steal from party or kill baby orcs, or whatever other infantile idea you have of what "evil" means. [ranty aside cause I'm in ranty mood: real evil would make the game so dark and distasteful, few would enjoy playing it].

Punishment (negative reinforcement if you want to pretend to be PC) is far less prone to unintended consequences than reward systems and seems more effective in my experience. Or, possibly, I'm just a dick.

The Furies

Players (not characters) earn a Fury token every time they:

 - directly mention a game stat; Hit Points Alignment, Ability Score, class ability Spell slots, levels, XP, etc
 - cheezily attempt to circumvent above by saying shit like "I feel like I'm at 1/2 my regular health"
 - other actions deemed by Referee or Player as "meta-gaming" or "breaking the fourth wall" (perhaps only repeated occurrence after 1st warning & explanation)

Exceptions for direct responses to Referees questions, explicit rules questions/clarifications.

Unlike Inspiration, Furies accumulate. The Referee may take back a Fury at any time to give character player is controlling disadvantage [roll 2 d20 take worst result].

Players will fucking hate this. So much, I'm sure that I will soon not have cause to pass out Furies. The table will shift from "game talk" to "in character talk". People will feel comfortable roleplaying if they want. And some might even fall into it without realizing. Ideally, play emphasis will shift from mechanics, fighting, accumulation of more mechanical benefits to "adventure" and pursuing in character desires. At least a Referee can dream.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

RPG (every 10 or so) days

It's a thing ->
But, I can't be arsed to write 31 individual blog posts. You get them in several mass ramblings!

12th - Old Rpg you still play / read

Most the RPGs I play are old (or retro-clones of old games). OD&D. Swords & Wizardry, Labyrinth Lord, I hope to be playing Metamorphosis Alpha when the kickstarter ships.

13th - Most Memorable Character Death

A dwarf defending fort till his death against Giants and humanoids while the civilians escape through escape tunnel. College game run by History Major.  It was keen.

14th - Best Convention Purchase

15th - Favorite Convention Game

Caves of Chaos (mash-up of D&D B2 and Hackmaster B2) which I've run at various conventions.

16th - Game  you wish you owned

Until they started re-releasing all the OOP print stuff I wish I owned D&D.  Wish I had the rights to reprint / make computer versions of all the old SPI and AH wargames. Although, I don't think question meant "Own the copyright to". I kind of own all the games I want, except some which are collector's items and ridiculously riced. I kind of with I still had the print copies of all the ICE Middle Earth modules.

17th - Funniest Game you've played


18th - Favorite Game System

I like different systems for different styles of play. Something simple, light OD&D, Swords and Wizardry for sandbox / exploration play. For the more heroic / story driven games I'm really digging FFG's Age of Rebellion. Thinking about Conan conversion of it's mechanics.

Art / Flavor wise Dungeon Crawl Classics is close tie with Lamentations of the Flame Princess.

19th - Favorite Published Adventure

B2 Keep on the Borderlands my first module ever, so great and flexible. I've done a lot with it.
S3 Expedition to the Barrier Peaks top of my short lest of classic modules I still need to run. Sci-Fantasy loves it.
Barrowmaze Dripping with flavor and unique dungeon layout.

20th - Will still play in 20 years time...

Everything I'm playing today. I'll be 64!

21st - Favorite Licensed RPG

Licensed games generally blow.  FFG's Age of Empire is decent. So was Firefly RPG if I remember correctly.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Epic Game of Thrones Board Game Customization

I have a friend. This friend has imagination, a hot glue gun, and way more free time than I do. He spends some of that free time modifying board games. Both by adding extra rules, cards, pieces, etc. And by making 3-D game boards. His latest "large" project has been "A Game of Thrones". The board is huge 7+feet, see last photo of game board folded in half next to creator. My friend says it's 90% complete, only needs some labels and pouring the water stuff modelers use (acrylic?) for the oceans.

I don't know game, and haven't even watched the series (or read books). So, mostly let pictures do the talking.

Length of board looking south.

Ice wall, with snow zombies behind it. The Black Watch?

Scoreboard, playing decks, council table, and throne room

Flash washing out castles and viallages detail

The "rolling game box" and creator Yoseph B.

Maybe it was more impressive in person, but at least for me... Mind Blown!

Monday, August 11, 2014

RPG (every 10 or so) days

It's a thing ->
But, I can't be arsed to write 31 individual blog posts. You get them in several mass ramblings!

#1 First RPG Played

First solo play was Moldvay D&D Basic Set around 11-12 years old. Freakin captured my imagination. Really has dominated my life for next 30 years. RPGs have been and continue to be my #1 creative outlet.  I've spent more of my time, money, and life on them than just about anything else. I think the main draw (and I'm primarily a DM) for me is the creation and control of "worlds and characters". It's not as hard as writing a novel, or as expensive/complex as producing a movie or requiring talent needed to paint but has creative aspects of all of those. It can be as private as staying up all night in your basement keying the dungeon map you drew, or as social as playing games with strangers at the FLGS. It can be done with nothing more than pencils and paper (or even just rocks and sticks). Or with ridiculously large amount of "bits".

I think the first game I played with other people was AD&D in high school.

#2 First RPG Refereed

Rolemaster in college. Finally got 3 people interested in something other than D&D. It lasted 2 sessions. While I may still not be a good Ref, I was much, much worse then.

#3 First RPG Purchased

The Little Brown Books in a White Box from forgotten hobby shop in Falls Church, VA.Tagging along with dad when he'd get model railroad stuff.  Around this time I also spent my allowance on a subscription to Dragon Magazine, this was issues 80's or 70's . That was freaking awesome. Every month a brown paper wrapped parcel of RPG stuff.

#4 Most recent RPG purchase

Currently contributed to several (too many) Kickstarters that have yet to fund / deliver. Arguably these are purchases from the future.
DCC Purple PlanetNecromancer Games 
5ed Monsters and Stuff 
Metamorphosis Alpha (next year's winner for #5 Most Old School RPG owned) 
CSIO maps baby! 
Dwarvenite Caves and Caverns 
Blue Dungeon Tiles 
Bones II
Di I mention up in #1 about spending too much money on games...

Most recent from the FLGS (wave Mage's Sanctum) RPG (I buy regular games too much too) purchase was FATE Core.

Most recent EBay win: Bunch of Ravenloft Guides to .... 

#5 Most Old School RPG owned

I prefer old school, so most my games are old school. Empire of the Petal Throne wins. For being actually old, old school in play, and not retro-cloned (to my knowledge). Although, Jeff Dee and friends are working on something like that.

Honorable mention goes to The Traveller Book. The only RPG I'm aware of in which your character can die during creation.

#6 Favorite RPG Never get to play

Ars Magica I never have played and can't be sure it's my favorite. I really, really want to find out though. 

Definitely my favorite never get to play RPG is Rolemaster / MERP / HARP and derivatives. 

#7 Most "intellectual" RPG owned

I've thrown away any of those I've accidentally acquired.

#8 Favorite character

I don't really keep characters for long or recycle them. As a player I tend to get the DMing itch and leave campaigns before too long.  I like this guy, an NPC  Pilger, Dwarven Priest of Horm

#9 Favorite Die / Dice Set

d30 OF COURSE.  Btw I picked up New Big Dragon Games d30 Companions at this years North Texas RPG Con and recommend them highly.

#10 Favorite tie-in Novel / Game Fiction

I friggin hate companies (i.e. White Wolf) and products (i.e. everything White Wolf has published) that combine 1/2 bad fiction with 1/2 bad RPG supplement. That being said a couple book -> games I've not hated are Jack Vance's / Dying Earth RPG and Robert Jordan / Wheel of Time RPG.

P.s. Dragonlance RPG stuff blows.

#11 Weirdest RPG owned

I have hundreds... and what's weird? If I had that diceless RPG Amber? I'd definitely call it weird. If I didn't dislike indie scenester games with all their cleverness and intellectualism, some of them are definitely weird. 

Macho Women with Machine Guns is nominally "weird" for those unfamiliar with the films of Russ Meyer.

Fudge / Fate has weird (relative to polyhedrals) dice.

Some of the Fantasy Games Unlimited RPGs have weirdly impenetrable rules.

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