19 November, 2012

I long for the old days...

I'm getting annoyed with my gaming group again.  Well, let me be more specific.  Two things are annoying me about the gaming group.  One is that one person who's bound and determined to ruin any game that's not run to her exact specifications.  Can't do much about that except 1) ignore her, 2) quit going to the game.  I'm doing my best to do 1 right now.    The other thing is that I come to these moments where I'm just sick to death of the method of play at my gaming group.  It's not that it's bad.  The DM is great: a really nice guy who does what he can with the time he can dedicate to the game to come up with stuff for us to play every week.  I appreciate the work he does.  I just don't agree with all his rules.

I'm not going to open up a discussion/can o' worms about things like level limits or alignment behaviour.  But I heard from the DM this week that he gives human characters a +1 on any one stat when they're created, because, as he's not using level limits, he wants to give an incentive for players to choose humans, who don't have special abilities.

In my opinion, the game is about humans.  The original game.  The original idea.  Humans form the backbone of the civilised world.  The demi-humans form the fringes around it.  Dwarves want to stay in the mountain and mine.  Halflings want to stay in the shire and do halfling things.  Elves want to stay in the forests and frolic.  It's the oddballs of these races that come out to be player characters.  (And at the same time, I love humanoids as PCs.  In the setting I'm working on I'm replacing traditional demi-humans with animal men, who ought to operate by the same rule, but I'd love to see them get out into the world as PCs.  I'm so conflicted.)

Humans like to get into everything.  Humans are curious by nature.  We like to know what's over that next rise, or why this-or-that happened in such-and-such a way.  Humans are natural adventurers.  The other races, not so much.

I find myself longing for classic gaming, for the old days, for the Old School Revival kinds of games, the games that one annoying person at my game despise.  Roll 3d6, pick a class, buy armour and weapons and a pack and a torch or whatever, use less than one side of a piece of notebook paper, and we're off.   No split stats.  No NWPs.  No WPs.  No out-of-character spell lists that take several splatbooks to contain.  No pile of splatbooks that purport to give you more options but really restrict your options.  Ever tried making something really unique in Second Edition Skills  & Powers? I have.  I always run up against something that doesn't quite work.   Sometimes I think S&P is designed for people without imagination.  They want the game company to do all their thinkin' for them.

So I want to go back to those old days, before Tieflings (blech) and five-foot steps and Disadvantages and Character Points and all.  To that end, I have in my little brain the idea to run some short sessions of Moldvay/Mentzer D&D, possibly after the chaos of the holidays has passed and there are players available.  I'm feeling rather ranty tonight (no, REALLY?)  so I'll save the details for another post.

10 October, 2012

More Ghostbusters adaptation: Brownie/Fate/Luck/Hero Points

In the Ghostbusters game, Brownie Points serve four purposes: they allow you to increase the chances of success when you attempt something, you can spend them to save your butt if you're in over your head, you mark them off when you take damage, and you can turn them in to increase a Trait, so they're also kind of like experience points.  
Ghostbusters doesn't focus around physical combat, so marking off Brownie Points for damage works well there.  But how well will it work when combat is a more important part of the game?  Ghostbusters start with twenty Brownie Points.  I've never played the game for more than a few sessions concurrently, with the same characters, so I don't know how often advancement, or Trait increases, is liable to take place over a long period of time.  For a short-term game it shouldn't matter as much, but if you get into a heap of combat and run out of points, your chances of advancing are slim.

So another question that comes to mind is: how important is advancing your character?  Well, I expect it's going to depend at least in part on how difficult you make things.  With starting stats (12 points distributed over four Traits, none higher than four), the most dice you'll naturally get to roll is seven (if you're attempting something that falls under your Talent in a Trait with a score of 4).  Brownie Points notwithstanding, as every BP you throw lets you roll an extra die (and makes it a little less likely you'll be able to trade in thirty points for a Trait point later on).  With the Skull Die's six equalling zero, seven dice nets you a minimum of 7 and a maximum of 41.  Not  being much with the statistics I'm unsure of quite how to work out the most likely set of numbers from a roll like this, but the average value between 7 and 41 is 24.  Difficulties are unlikely to be higher than 20 unless you're trying to do something really hard (and probably suicidal) at least at early stages.  And again, it's hard to really track what the PCs' abilities will be because the players can spend Brownie Points to add a die.  So if the party thief wants to climb a particularly slippery and sheer cliff face to avoid Certain Doom (TM) in the form of a horrible, slobbering monster he woke up trying to steal the Gem of Unparallelled Beauty, he can always toss in a few extra Points to help ensure he won't fail (fickleness of the dice notwithstanding).  But the spending of Brownie Points will always be tempered by slower advancement.  I suppose that's the choice, then.  If you play it safe (and we're adventurers here: risk-taking is one of the prime requisites, is it not?), you may gain some Trait points more quickly than Mr. I'm Stealing The Biggest Treasure Guarded By The  Biggest Monster over there.  But he might wind up with the Biggest Treasure, while you've gained in ability, which serves to give you a better chance to gain some Big Treasure of your own later on.

So how important is advancement to your average player?  Is it possible to have fun and not become level twenty-seven billion in two months' play?  I think so.  But it still bears thinking about and discussing and testing.  Once I get this thing cobbled together I'll likely play out a mini  beta test on my own.  Just to see how many Brownie Points get spent in the course of exploring that weird old temple outside of town...

09 October, 2012

You characters got no class! Classlessness in the adapted Ghostbusters system

The GB system is classless -- in the original game all the PCs are Ghostbusters, 'nuff said. But you could build characters that lean toward some of the archetypes by putting points in appropriate Traits: Muscle/Strength for fighters (maybe also Moves/Dexterity if you're more acrobatic or swashbucklery), Brains/Intelligence for wizards or other scholarly types, Moves/Dexterity for thieves, and, well, I'm kinda down on clerics these days. Sorry, clerics, it's nothing personal. But a healer type could be cool, and if you sock some extra points into your Cool/Charisma Trait, you can calm panicking people or something. 
So rediscovering magic spells: maybe anybody can try to cast spells. Even Joe the Fighter, who has trouble remembering which end of the spear points at the bad guys (Brains/Int 1). Note that if Joe tries to cast even a Rank I spell, he's gonna have to nail it, 'cos with only one die you get to roll the Skull Die alone, and the most you can get on that is a 5. Just because you can do something doesn't mean you should necessarily try. But this classless thing would eliminate the sometimes annoying effects caused by class abilities. Wizards can't wield swords, fighters can't spellcast, etc. Probably, as noted above, they oughtn't, as a spellcaster with a Muscle/Strength of 2 isn't going to be of much good in a fight with a six-pack of burly beastmen.

08 October, 2012

Spellcasting in the adapted Ghostbusters system

In the Ghostbusters system everything you try to do (beyond normal mundane things like tying your shoe -- unless you're playing a three-year-old) is given a difficulty number.  You roll the number of dice in the related Trait and try to equal or beat the number.  Why not so with spells?  So my spellcaster  has a Brains/Intelligence of 5.  Let's pretend I have a list of spells, divided into ranks by their relative power.  To steal some from D&D, a Magic Missile might be a Rank I spell, a Fireball a Rank III.  Just for a baseline test.  So I'll decide, at this early juncture, that Rank I spells are difficulty 5, Rank IIs are 10, and Rank IIIs are 15.  Now my spellcaster wants to cast Magic Missile.  Or: let's give it a different name like ... Arcane Bolt.  I dunno.  So I roll five dice, including the Ghost/Skull Die, and I get a 12, with a 4 on the Skull Die.  That's more than 5, so it's a success.  The spell goes off, and the nature of the spell means it automatically hits its target.  No Skull, so yay for me -- no complications or other things that will help my opponents.  But what if later I try a spell I barely know, or maybe one I've just learned recently from a musty old scroll I brought back from an adventure -- Claddadh's Thundering Inferno, a Rank III spell.  So my target number is 15.  Again, I roll four dice plus the Skull Die.
Uh-oh, I rolled a six on the Skull Die, which is the skull. It counts as zero and means I'm due for trouble, regardless of whether I succeed.  The rest of the dice total ... exactly 15.  Whew.  So, in the course of my first attempt to cast this probably ancient spell, I barely manage to keep it from burning out my cortex and instead it burns my enemies.  But wait: I rolled the Skull too.  The GM lets me know that the thundering ball of fire does indeed incinerate my degenerate foes, but also catches the old chest in the corner of the room, which, being it was actually an incredibly rare sculpture made of highly flammable but valuable material once used by some people who are all dead now, this probable archaeological treasure goes up in flames, destroying it and whatever nifty secrets it may have contained.

I think it's workable.

11 September, 2012

Reunbuilding the world, or, 'Teenage Mutant WHAT?!'

I was looking over my old posts, particularly the ones describing my process of building the Illi Pesch region in 12W.  I realise that I built way too much, for someone whose original idea was to run a sandbox campaign.  I thought, 'wouldn't it be nice to run something, on Google Plus or even in meatspace with a small group of players at a local cafe or something, with just the first handful of things I made?'

I got the notebook out and had a look and realised the first little empire I made is populated with -- please don't hit me -- anthropomorphic ducks.  The name 'Mallardo Empire' was pestering me so I decided they were ducks.  I have no idea.  In a way it's wonderfully whimsical, but really I want to do something that's predominately humanocentric, so why the heck did I make Teenage Mutant Ninja Medieval Ducks?  I love mutant animals, that's why.  Okay, mystery solved.  But I could just make them a human empire.  The writeup in my notebook, the fourth entry after three random little seed ideas/weird details I'd planned to use later, reads thusly:
The Mallardo Empire - small nation of Mallards, anthro Mallard ducks.  Fierce, proud, isolationist.  Emporer always called "The Mallardo", Empress "Mallarda".  Culture vaguely Spanish.  Conquistadors.
Somehow it seems wrong to just make them humans.  And of course my brain goes immediately down the 'it must make SENSE!' pathway, thinking of how maybe the world is populated with remnants of post-nuclear apocalyptic worlds and these ducks are mutant animals, if anyone of this technology level knew what a genetic mutant actually was.  Maybe they're the outgrowth of a weird failed/successful magical/scientific experiment.

But the old-schoolers would have it that it doesn't have to make sense.  And I have agreed with that.  And I like the idea of this being someplace that once had high tech but it went wrong and ate them or something and so now the world is coming back from being ruined or what-have-you.

Regardless, I'm revisiting the idea of running something based here, mutant ducks or no mutant ducks.  Of course, I'm also into the science fiction at the moment, probably a side-effect of my studies in maths and science.  Oh, how my detail-oriented mind goes for building solar systems!  More 'it must make SENSE!' than you can shake a nonsensical thing at.  But I'll discuss that at another time, I expect.   It is possible for me to grab the first strands of 12W and drop some characters in and shake it around and see what happens.  This can happen.  Or I will drop some characters into the rules-light, possible d6 system sci-fi setting I've been poking at and shake that.  Adventure is afoot!

14 August, 2012

Changing of the Dice

While tinkering around in the simple system I'm yanking out of West End Games' Ghostbusters game, I pondered changing from using six-sided dice to using four-sided dice.  I find the ubiquitous six-sider boring, though it's far more accessible to non-gamers who might be better able to pick up this rules-light system as opposed to the monstrosities that are latter-day editions of D&D.  Four-siders are my favourite die, followed by twelve-siders, so I thought I'd look into how the game might change based on a different randomiser.

Adjusting the difficulty numbers assigned to tasks is simple: the standard range is 5 (easy) to 30 (difficult), with a new level after every five numbers.  Well, I see that 5 is 6-1.  Six is the maximum you can roll on one d6.  So for every "level" of difficulty you should be rolling one more die if you hope to succeed.  You would have a hard time rolling a 5 on a d6, but most characters don't have scores of 1 (I think 2 is the minimum, though injury or unusual circumstances can cause you to lose points in your traits), so we can safely assume the player will be rolling at least two dice.  If I apply the 'max on die minus one' formula to the d4, I get a scale from 3-18.  Again, it's hard to roll a 3 on a d4, but if you're rolling two of them, not too bad.  So adjusting the scale of difficulty numbers seems to translate okay.

However, with only four possibilities whenever you roll a die, the Ghost or Skull Die becomes a much larger threat.  The probability you will roll the skull and have Something Bad happen leaps from 1 in 6 to 1 in 4.  That's significant.  It could be justified by the setting -- if you run a dark horror or post-apocalyptic game with a deadly and/or scary mood, where the PCs should expect awfulness to be around each and every corner, it might actually benefit you.  I don't know that that's a good idea for my setting idea, which I'm planning to be mostly serious but not grim, with ample opportunity for some comedy/foolishness/slapstick.

So the jury's still  out on this one.  I'm still very much in the brainstorming phase of the setting, and I'm assembling the rules (mostly, as I said, pulled right from the pages of the Ghostbusters book) bit by bit as I go, so there's plenty of time to tweak and experiment.

13 August, 2012

Rules Light

I'm tinkering about, in my head, mostly, with the idea of adapting using stealing the D6 rules used in West End Games' "Ghostbusters" RPG for a gaming experience. I loved the super-light rules in that game and I think they'll be great for any number of settings. I would probably re-name the "Ghost Die" to a generic "Skull Die" or something, but that's barely worth mentioning.

In the Ghostbusters game, character sheets are slightly larger than a 3x5 card, including room for a portrait. Characters have four Traits: Brains, Muscle, Moves, and Cool, and a Talent for each, which lets a player roll four extra dice when attempting a feat that falls under that Talent. Each character also has a Goal and a set of Brownie Points. The general mechanic is: to complete a task, the GM assigns it a difficulty and decides what Trait it falls under. The player rolls the number of dice their character has in that Trait and tries to equal or beat the difficulty number. The dice are all six-siders, and one must be the Ghost Die, which has the famous 'no-ghost' symbol in place of the six. If you roll the ghost, Something Bad happens, whether or not you succeed, and the ghost counts as a zero. If you succeed or fail without rolling a ghost, you just succeed or fail and nothing particularly special happens outside what you might expect to happen in that situation. But if you roll a ghost, even if you succeed, Something Bad happens, usually, in Ghostbusters, with comic effect.

Players can spend Brownie Points to improve their chances to succeed or to save their character's butt in an emergency. They earn Brownie Points by successfully completing adventures and by explaining what happens to their character when they save his/her butt with Brownie Points. Brownie Points are a little like Fate points, but they're also hit points: if you take damage from something, say, a poltergeist slams you in the face with a phone pole, you lose Brownie Points. I think it's a wonderfully compact and functional system that you can play without the need to look up things on a chart every 2.5x10-2 seconds.

I've made some notes on vague ideas for a sci-fi setting, a 'mutant animals living in our modern world a la Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' setting, and I've even pondered using this in a fantasy setting, and not only to wean some of my players from the idea that D&D 2nd Edition Skills and Powers is the only D&D ruleset worth playing fantasy in. And I'm really getting tired of Forgotten Realms.

When I've looked over the Ghostbusters rules in a little more detail, and decided if this is something I want to do or not, I'll update here.

11 August, 2012

An Update on The World of the Twelve Faces (12W)

Due to circumstances beyond my control, I have not been running 12W as I planned. I may get back to it, but right now I have other things of importance in my life that are taking precedence. I may go back later and tweak it before offering it on Google Plus. I've been thinking a little lately of eliminating gods (again) and turning the cleric class into a simple monster-hunter/vanHelsing type of thing, in a region where creepy what-the-hell-IS-that former people or something wander about. I was inspired by recent additions to Dwarf Fortress on that front (well, recent meaning a handful of versions ago, anyhow). More detail on that as I ponder it.

But for the moment the World of the Twelve Faces is silent.

10 April, 2012

The pressure to min-max: struggles with new/old school styles

Zak mentioned this little gem today on his blog:

-Litmus test. How to know a player is lame:
Player discovers Option A (with x flavor) is objectively, mechanically, more powerful than Option B (with y flavor--totally different).
Player chooses Option A, doesn't see why you wouldn't.
Player is not 12 years old

At my regular game I fall prey to this mindset, that being the one belonging to the ruthless min-maxer. Our group has a couple min-maxers and I feel the pressure to go with the group. We're playing 2nd Edition Skills & Powers, possibly the most convoluted set of rules since 3e. That makes sense somehow. The more I get into the OSR stuff the more the endless lists of options and points and traits and disadvantages and bonuses and abilities oh my annoys the crap out of me. Yet when creating my character for our most recent game, I took the extra rolls the DM offered, squeezed every last drop of ability out of those scores, and min-maxed my character for the ultimate potential in being awesome at table, for fear of having a dumb character who can't do anything interesting in comparison to the min-maxed PCs of my fellows.

I dislike myself for falling prey to this again and again. Each time I make a character I try to make an interesting one, not just one who can do stuff like 'OMG did you *see* that?!' You don't need to be the most awesome to make a memorable and/or enjoyable experience. I do know this. I fall prey to peer pressure, even of the unspoken kind. If everyone at table is wearing a purple hat and you insist on wearing a pink one, you're going to stand out. Now, these people are my friends and no one is going to yell at me for not min-maxing. But I fear I will have a sub-par experience if I don't min-max like the others do.

I once made a kobold priestess who was originally intended to be a kind of comic relief. I was going to play her for her personality, not for her ability to be the damned medic (side note: I hate being the medic. Clerics do not always have to be the medic. Probably why my last cleric was an evil specialty priest of the god of storms. I didn't have to feel obligated to heal the party - my character looked out for herself first!). The first version I rolled up, well before I was ready to switch characters, had a slightly above-average Wisdom. By the time I was ready to run the character, I had re-rolled her and given her an 18 Wisdom. Why? Because I have to be GOOD at stuff! Everybody else at table is GOOD at stuff! If I'm not I'll look lame and suck and I won't have fun. That's what I probably thought at the time.

I suppose I'll just have to take the plunge one day: make a character as if I'm playing in a good old B/X or Advanced game and try my best to have fun with it. I've considered bringing back the kobold priestess, but I still don't want to play the cleric. Maybe a kobold thief... I like the idea of being this scuzzy little reptile who speaks broken Common, eats rats, and doesn't comprehend the strange concept called 'bath'. I could do the same kind of thing with a more standard race, but in S&P there are a heap of race choices, so why not play the critter I like the most? And most importantly, why do I feel this need to munchkinly min-max?

15 March, 2012

This Might Be Considered a Rant: THAC0

I just started reading Howling Tower.  I opened up a post from January today and the author referenced a post on Critical Hits about the way the game has changed, the influence of the Internet, et cetera.  I was cruising through this post and suddenly came to a screeching halt at this sentence: "We all know that huge weight that was lifted when THAC0 went away."


What's wrong with THAC0?  If I know your character's THAC0 I know what Armour Class he's going to hit.  THAC0 20?  Rolled a 12?  AC 8.  It's basic subtraction, folks.  Not rocket science.  Third Edition decided to dumb down the system and now you all can't do math?  Eh?  Sure, it's easier to go, "The monster's AC is 12 so you need a 12 to hit it," but really.  I'm an English  Major.  I don't do math like some people don't do windows, get it?  I  like rules-light systems because I don't want to spend all my time figuring out seventy billion adjustments to my roll just to see if I can successfully walk down the street without falling over.  But THAC0 is not an example of a complex rule.

I started playing D&D (red box Mentzer) around 1984 or so.  I don't recall, as a child, having a great difficulty with descending Armour Class.  I learned it, and THAC0, very quickly.  Could it be that today's players are preoccupied with having the game their way, so their characters can be the special snowflake?  That they love all the new rules that "protect" them from "nasty DMs"?  That's fine for them.  I feel sad for them, but I'm not gonna argue with them, as long as they don't come leaning over here and telling me I'm a moron for using THAC0 and descending AC.  I feel sad that they've had to play with selfish and/or killer DMs who've abused them so much that they see a complicated, bloated ruleset as their only salvation.  And honestly: if you wanna be the badass mofo who kills all the monsters flawlessly and can never ever lose?  Go play an FPS game and turn on god mode.  If you want an experience that you'll remember, a fun time with friends, by all means, play D&D.

Told you this was gonna be ranty.

13 March, 2012

Secrets and Such - no players allowed!

When I wrote the last post, about the world's inherent weirdness being at least part of the reason for what I called my campaign's "low-magic" quality, I didn't know the half of it.  I've had time to work out (and, in many cases, stumble upon - my Muse works in interesting ways) one of the fundamental truths of the gameworld.

I give this warning to anybody on my current players list: look away now.  I'm going to reveal the number one secret of the world your future characters will be living on.  Loki, SuStel, Arcadian: I mean you folks. :)  I'll be putting "players keep out" as a tag on posts like these.

Spoiler spaaaaccceee....!

The world is tentatively called "The World of the Twelve Faces".  It's not a globe.  It's a dodecahedron.  I've had all kinds of wonderful and bizarre ideas about how it works (inspired in large part by an article on a cubical earth that I believe Zak S. posted some time ago).  I'm taking Zak's 'the underworld connects various surface areas to each other' idea as well.

Each face of the dodecahedron has its own geography, inhabitants, and history.  Yes, they're connected via the underworld caverns and such, and occasional migrants from one face to another may be seen, but basically they're isolated from each other.  I've only built up the face the player characters will start on: Face Five.  I've had a minor brainstorm or two on what and who might inhabit the other faces, and as I've begun scrawling down notes on the faces I've vaguely outlined interesting geographical  bits about each.

The geography of each face is heavily influenced by the numbers that appear on the twelve-sided die I hold up whenever I'm pondering the world.  (I've become painfully aware that different dice are not only of slightly different sizes, but the numbers are frequently in different places and/or orientations, so I've had to decide on a 'canon' twelve-sider so that I don't confuse or contradict myself.  Chessex are my favourite dice, so I'm using my bone coloured one for this purpose, though that pretty light-and-dark blue speckled one on the windowsill is very nice... but different. >.<) Many of the faces sport a deep canyon or crevice of some kind, though in all cases this doesn't look like the number any more.  Well, Face Eight might, since it has a superfast-moving river system that looks suspciously like the infinity symbol standing up instead of a central sea like most of the rest of them, in accordance with what I learned about cubical earth.

There'll  be more on this stuff later.  Hoping to get into a more regular posting schedule around here.