Campaign noticeboard

My all around workload is significantly reduced this year and it is my very great desire to actually get an RPG campaign off the ground.

This post is just going in here for me to send links to potential players so ignore it as you will. On the other hand, feel free to comment or even put your hand up for a spot.

Here’s my thinking so far:

  1. Planning to start probably early April. I’m still looking for a rental at the moment so I’m giving myself plenty of time to get into a new house and then get organised too. Thinking of fortnightly sessions probably on Fridays nights. I don’t think I will have any problem getting a full table (I have three sons and a brother who are very likely player candidates) but I am keen to try my hand at some G+ Hangout sessions. This may just be a way to get extra players to the game or I might think about running secondary sessions through Hangouts only.
  2. System is yet to be set. I’m keen to use something that everyone can get access to the rules to easily and freely. Most potential players have some D&D experience so I’m thinking Swords & Wizardry (OD&D), Labyrinth Lord (Classic aka “Basic” D&D) or OSRIC (1E AD&D), all well house-ruled. Alternatively we could go for something rules-light like Risus or I also wouldn’t mind getting to try Fate Core (or FAE). Let me know your own preferences in the comments or contact me directly.
  3. I’m open to other suggestions but I’m thinking that I will set the campaign in a pseudo-historical Earth setting that has been taking form in my mind (on and off) over the last many years. Thinking of centring everything around a megadungeon of some sort. Might even use the early releases of Dwimmermount.
  4. I’ve got some big ideas about communication during the campaign and I would like to make a nice central place for discussion outside of game time. I’m thinking of a G+ community but if we all just added each other to a “Game” circle that would probably work just as well. In case you haven’t noticed a pattern yet, it might be worthwhile setting up a Google+ account if you haven’t yet, between hangouts and communications I’m planning to make good use of it.

That’s as far as I’ve got… So please add to the comments, let me know what you think or what you want. Game on.

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Spitting the dummy, 2010 edition

I think this is a great illustration to add on to my last post about unfollowing on Twitter.

The past week has seen a firestorm in a part of the net that I regularly lurk around. I didn’t even notice it happening and only know those involved by name and reputation. So I am not pretending to know any details or to pass any sort of judgment on any of the players.

The fallout is interesting though. One of the players is relatively well known in the scene. It seems that someone upset him. A great deal, if this last twitter post is anything to go by:

And to judge by the link from the twitter profile, he was serious

I know children who would have trouble topping a dummy spit like that.

Gotta say, I understand the urge to pick up my marbles and go home. But surely a more sensible (not to say mature) response would have been to:

  • turn off comments on my blog (leaving the useful information there for those not involved in annoying me in the first place)
  • protect my tweets (perhaps blocking certain followers at the same time)
  • unsubscribing from offending RSS feeds
  • never going back to certain forums
  • Say nothing. Nothing at all.

All of which would at least leave the door open for a gracious return to the fold (if desired) once the fires have all died down. Rather that using the fire to burn all of his bridges.

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I really love vampires #fatfib

The above title was from a retweet that appeared on my timeline recently. It was tweeted by a literary agent and retweeted by another. Why would two people who are prone to receiving fantasy fiction have such a low view of such an important resident of Western fiction?
I got thinking about Vampires and their presence in literature last year when a friend tweeted a link to an this article: Why women love vampires and men don’t.
There are two main points in the article that I’d like to have a look at:

  • Women love bad boys and the chance to change him, writer says
  • Writer says a vampire is a monster, who looks, acts, and talks like a man

Without getting into a debate about what women do or do not love, I’d just like to say that these particular points are somewhat contradictory. No, perhaps contradictory is a bit too harsh. Just that perhaps the second point is so much more significant than the first that the bad-boy-loving women don’t realise how little chance they have of changing the monster.
A couple of years ago, I finally got around to reading Dracula (I love Project Gutenberg). Dracula is (of course) the archetypal literary vampire. A bad boy? Most certainly. Going to be changed by any woman? I don’t think so.
Before we go any further, let’s just make this clear: Dracula is Evil. Not just a bad boy, evil. Flashman was a bad boy. Heathcliffe was a bad boy (or at least became one). Wickham was a bad boy. Not Dracula.
Having said that, I can see how the tendency to move away from the monstrous and towards the sophisticated and beautiful creature of the night started with Dracula. He played the part of a Lord well. He was polite and clever and interesting. He was well dressed. Mysterious. He was also very attractive to women, but that was as much his supernatural power as anything else. But it was all just for show. He only acted and appeared like that so that he could live among his prey.
James Maliszewski reviewed Dracula in his Pulp Fantasy Library reviews. He said in his conclusion:

I find vampires to be both attractive and repulsive: attractive, because the idea of nearly-immortal damned souls stalking the night is a terrifying one; repulsive, because too few people nowadays look on vampires as unambiguously evil … I think there’s still a lot of punch left in vampires but most of that punch comes from contemplating their status as thralls of Hell (whether literally or metaphorically) rather than as forever-young demigods.

Wil Wheaton was a little less polite:

I’m so old, I remember when vampires were scary and awesome, and they only sparkled in daylight before bursting into flames

Before anyone else says it, I’m not trying to say that all vampires should be exactly like Dracula. Vampires (of various varieties) have existed in folklore for centuries and almost as long in literature. Dracula was just the one (thanks to Stoker and also to Bela Lugosi) that captured the public imagination. I haven’t looked far but I haven’t found any serious mention of vampires (recent literature excluded) that are just mostly bad and actually quite good on the inside, like an undead version of the Leader of the Pack.
I particularly like the vampires of the Dresden Files. While there are various breeds of vampires (the Black Court being “Stoker-standard”) they are all monsters. They are all (as Butcher puts it) “supernatural predators” who are basically just out to eat us. On the odd occasion where this is not true (The Brotherhood of St Giles, the odd White Court Vampire like Thomas) they are really just the exception that proves the rule.
My point? If it’s not broken, don’t fix it. Dracula-stereotyped vampires are cool. They are true vampires. If you want to mess with the archetype, then do so in a cool and original way.
I’ll leave you with another @wilw tweet that was just too good to leave out:

Lost Boys was a little silly but still ultracool, and Near Dark is the best vampire movie ever made. SUCK IT SPARKLEDORKS.

A disclaimer: I have neither read Twilight nor seen the big-screen version. I’m sure I shall one day (and, just like Harry Potter, I will no doubt do so in secret to preserve my precious reputation) but I’m one who tends to avoid pop-culture (of any sort) while everyone is still talking about it.

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Mythic and NaNoWrimo 2009

We’re well within two months of NaNoWriMo 2009 and I’m not really sure what I’m wanting to do.

Last year’s story only told half of the story I had planned, so I was originally planning on doing a sequel. But now I don’t want to. I was happy to leave it where it finished. In fact, the story I ended up telling started off being just the introduction to the story I first envisioned telling. It’s funny how things turn out sometimes!

I need to come up with something else. That doesn’t need to be hard, I’ve always got lots of ideas, I just need ideas plus inspiration. And a bit of interest developed in the subject matter.

So instead, I’ve come up with a completely different and very stupid idea that will have me doing almost everything differently to how I did it (successfully) last year.

I’ve been playing around with the Mythic Game Master Emulator (demo here and yahoo group here) for my role playing games this year and I am considering using that to completely “wing it”. The GME book says this:

Finally, Mythic: GME can be used as a writing tool. The architecture that creates dynamic adventures is really an automated story-telling system. It will work just as well without any games or formalized characters attached. Just set the scene, ask some questions, and start writing.

If it works the way I see it, I could just come up with a general concept (or even make one randomly) and then use the system and appropriately phrased questions to let the plot work itself out.

Some years ago, I did some rough outlines of an alternate-history Earth. Very little of it got detailed, but the setting has a reasonably defined place in my mind. The idea of writing a novel set there, and having the Mythic Fate chart to help me flesh it out really appeals to me.

I’ll keep you informed as to how it goes…

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D&D game magic doesn’t always have the mystique it deserves

The title to this post is from an article by Dan Joyce in Dragon Magazine #200 entitled “The Colour of Magic”. If you are interested, there is a copy of the article on the Vaults of Pandius.

The Colour of Magic was a great article and is one of the few that I often see references to on Classic-D&D related sites even now, roughly 15 years after it was published. The core concept was that the relatively small spell lists in (RC-era) D&D meant that everyone who had ever read the books would know all the spells and as you know, familiarity breed contempt. Joyce’s solution to this was simple: Still allow the same game effects (mechanically) but allow different magic users to describe their spells differently. For example:

Grimfang is a 3rd-level goblin magic-user, the shaman of a small tribe that uses spiders of varying sizes as guards, mounts, and totem animals. All her spells have an arachnid theme.

First level: Shield (Chitin). Grimfang’s skin turns into tough, articulated chitin for the duration of the spell, giving her a spider-like appearance.

Sleep (Spiderbite). Range: Nil. Duration: Special. Grimfang can inject sleep-inducing poison by biting. This requires a roll to hit in combat. She can put 2d8 hit dice worth of creatures to sleep for 4-16 turns (determine the duration secretly when the spell is cast). Any creature bitten that has over 4 + 1 hit dice, or more hit dice than Grimfang has hit dice worth of poison remaining, is unaffected (the magic-user still loses the relevant hit dice worth of poison, however). … The victim of this spell is affected as per the standard version of this spell: sleep for 4-16 turns, no saving throw.

Second level: Web. Standard spell.

Get the idea? You could take any concept (fire magic, ice magic, animal magic, ghost magic or anything you could think of) and reimagine the descriptions of any spell to match that concept. Imagine this: the party is coming up on a single magic-user. He holds his hands out and balls of flame form in his hands. They panic. They aren’t tough enough to handle fireballs! But is it a fireball, or is he just a bog-standard fire mage preparing to let off a small volley of magic missiles (that just happen to have a very similar appearance to the more deadly fireball)?

There is a secondary part to the article, one which is even more related to the “mystique” of the magic user.

Xeno the Enchanter can conjure a fireball by waving his arms about, but he cannot light his pipe by snapping his fingers.

This is important. A magic user is a breed apart, messing about with the very building blocks of nature. He should be able to do slightly fey things just because. So Joyce suggests that they can. Just little things, like lighting a pipe or a fire or swatting a bug out the air. The article does make it clear that allowing magic users to do these little “extras” shouldn’t allow them to do things that they couldn’t otherwise do without magic. But in the case of the mysterious wizards how they do it is more important than what they do.

Think of Gandalf and his smoke rings, or even his fireworks. Even Raistlin managed this sort of stuff (if I’m remembering rightly, Dragonlance has been long neglected around here).

On a related issue, James Maliszewski (of Grognardia fame) has posted a list of Minor Magical Effects related to currently memorised spells.

This is a slightly more potent version of Joyce’s “bonus effects”, but one that fits in even more closely with the Vancian roots of the D&D magic system. (As an aside, I have only read Jack Vance’s Dying Earth very recently but I can tell you it was a serious “aha!” moment when it came to understanding what Gygax and Arneson did when it came to spells).

I’m not sure where I read it, but someone suggested that Vancian spells have an almost sentient nature to them. Your magic user spends a great deal of time and effort into cramming them into their brains and they are bursting to get out again. Maliszewski’s idea fits in beautifully with this concept. With the spells packed inside his head, the magic-user would just be radiating the very nature of that spell, almost struggling to hold onto it. It seems appropriate that the effect should be almost visible.

Note that the Minor Magical Effects are related specifically to currently-memorised spells, rather than just general-concept bonuses like the Colour of Magic suggested. I’m not sure that both systems would work that well together. Perhaps if you created a concept-mage (a la Colour of Magic) many of the Minor Magical Effects would be similar for all the concept spells. For example, the fire mage would have a fire-Magic Missile, a fireball, a Wall of Fire, a fire Shield and probably a lot more memorised at any one time and so he could probably always light his pipe by snapping his fingers.

Other than sharing two articles I found very interesting, I don’t think I’m really suggesting any particular course of action here. I’m not really even doing much along these lines in my own games (such that they are). Hope they might just get some thoughts flowing (for myself and others).

By the way, issue 200 of Dragon is one of my favourites. Not least because I had a letter published in it, leading to an interesting couple of years of play-by-mail games (but that’s an idea for yet another post).

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Looking at Saving Throws in BFRPG

In the last year or so, I have read quite a few different ideas about the nature of saving throws in RPGs. A few have just been flamebait (usually related to save-or-die effects) but all have got me thinking.

In his Musing on gaze effects, Philotomy says this about saving throws:

I look on saving throws as a “last chance” or a “disaster avoidance.” That is, your character is in a disastrous situation, but he gets a chance to slip out of circumstances which would spell doom for most men.

I think this is an important way of looking at things. Take a poison save for instance, say a character has been hit with a poison dart. Your average peasant is going to fall over dead, no question. A PC adventurer, even at first level is not your average peasant. He’s a hero. Granted, he’s only got a 10-20% chance of not joining the peasant, but it is a chance. And it gets better as he does up in level, as it should.

Check out these quotes from the 1E DMG (via Grognardia):

The term saving throw is common enough, coming to us from miniatures wargames and D&D. It represents the chance for the figure concerned to avoid (or at least partially avoid) the cruel results of fate. In AD&D it is the same. By means of luck, skill, magical protections, quirks of fate and the aid of supernatural powers, the character making his or her saving throw takes none or only part of the indicated results …

Yet because the player character is all-important, he or she must always — or nearly always — have a chance, no matter how small, a chance of somehow escaping what otherwise would be inevitable destruction. Many will not be able to do so, but the escapes of those who do are what the fabric of the game are created upon. These adventures become the twice-told tales and legends of the campaign.

A couple of years back when I was playing more Neverwinter Nights than tabletop RPGs and researching all the maths and calculations around 3E, I found this discussion on Uncle Bear’s blog about saving throws. In it, he suggests that:

The very fact that saves increase as a character goes up in level implies that they are learnable and theoretically trainable.

I think that logic works perfectly well for d20-based games with all its skill slots and feats and all the rest. It doesn’t fit quite so well with the earlier games. I see it more now as some sort of “Hero Roll”. My character, as an important hero, has an inherent ability to avoid nasty things happening to him. This ability gets better as he goes up in the level because a higher level character is (for lack of a better way of putting it) a better hero.

Now in BFRPG there is already a one-table mechanism for such a thing, though it isn’t really expressed as such. It is the Ability Checks rule in the optional rules section near the end. With ability checks, you roll d20, add the ability modifier (if any) and try to roll a target number or higher which is functionally identical to a saving throw.

User Nazim on the dragonsfoot forums said:

It’s a sort of universal saving throw chart, and I like it a lot. Thanks.

So my plan is to get rid of saving throws as written and replace them the Ability Checks. Though I’ve referred to them as Hero Rolls here, I think that sounds really stupid and I intend to keep the term Saving Throw.

I had a look at the statistics and how the two systems compared. I took the average saving throw for each class at each level bracket and compared them to the Ability Check they could achieve. They are actually very close (and I guess that may have been what Chris may have been looking at when he wrote the rules). At 1st level, the average saving throws are about 3 points better than the ability rolls. This narrows down to even at 16th level, and even a bit better for the ability rolls above that.

Those three points at first level are significant, but given that they are ability rolls and get to have ability bonuses added to them I fell it should even out a bit. Every saving throw now has an ability adjustment (not just certain spells). I’m also thinking that we can allow each save to perhaps choose the best bonus available from a certain list. This idea is stolen from a 3.5-hack Kim D&D, but I still think it is reasonable.

  • Death Ray or Poison – STR or CON
  • Magic Wands – INT or DEX
  • Paralysis or Petrify – STR, CON or CHR
  • Dragon Breath – WIS, DEX or CHR
  • Spells – INT or WIS

Alternatively, a system like Erin Smale’s approach to saving throws could work. Not the mechanism, but the list of save types. For example, WIS for Charms. If there is nothing specific in a save description that gives a clue as to which ability to use, you could either rule that no adjustment is allowed or that the character may use the adjustment from their Prime Requisite (whatever that happens to be – I think this fits in nicely with the hero roll concept).

If you’ve made it this far, I’m sure you’re asking “Why?”. Why replace one system (which has worked perfectly well for 30+ years) with one almost exactly the same? Two reasons. First of all, I like how it streamlines the process. That by itself isn’t reason enough, my second reason is that I can see the other side of Hero Rolls. That is, allowing characters to do amazing things just because they are heroes. But that is for another post.

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BFRPG supplements

I’ve recently been involved in preparing a couple of supplements for Basic Fantasy Role-Playing Game.

One of these is all my own work; a selection of pre-generated equipment packs designed to make the already easy character generation even easier. Check it out here: Equipment Packs: A Basic Fantasy Supplement.

The second is a bundle of options for Backgrounds (that is: what your character did before adventuring) and Specialties (what your character does in addition to general class duties). These rules just give a few small changes to what your character can do. Of course, you could (and should) just write all this stuff in your character back-story but this supplement puts a few things in concrete for you.

Note, 99% of the work in this supplement was done by James Roberts, I just took the stuff off the Dragonsfoot workshop forum and formatted it. The publisher (+Chris Gonnerman) just decided that was enough to get my name on the credits! Get it here: Backgrounds and Specialties: A Basic Fantasy Supplement.

And while you are there, check out Quick Character Generation: A Basic Fantasy Supplement by +Chris Kutalik which does much of what the other two supplements do and more!

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Have you seen this book?

Started watching Afterworld today and it reminded me (obliquely at least) of a book I read in my teens.

I can’t remember the name of this book or its author. I do remember that I read a reasonable number of books by this author around the same time, so he (I think it was a he) must have been reasonably prolific.

This particular book (set in modern times) was about a guy who found himself becoming increasingly ignored. Eventually he seemed to disappear out of everyone’s view. At the same time, he found everything else “greying out”.

In the story he ended up finding other people “slipping” into his domain, as well as food etc. He could tell the ‘real’ things because they had colour.

I’m really not even certain of the main plot, but the loss of colour is what I really remember. I would have read this around 1986 or a bit later, so it is at least that old.

Linda and I had a good google around the place trying to figure it out, but it is really quite hard to choose your search terms when you have little to no idea what you are looking for.

I have put out requests with my friends in the Christian Gamers Guild and also the Name That Book forum at Library Thing in the hope that someone can help me out. I think perhaps this space is a little less likely to uncover a solution, but it is worth a shot…

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In a music mood

Apologies to Jeff Rients for the title. More apologies for all the links in the following text…
In a recent post Jeff commented on the relationship between (heavy metal) music and gaming.

In many ways heavy metal and D&D go together like peas and mashed potatoes. Some people keep them separate on their plate but the awesomest folks mix ’em together with wild abandon.

Not trying to cash in on the Gameblog’s topic, but it made me think about what music I have always liked to game to. I made a comment after Jeff’s post, carelessly posted AC, with my suggestion of Deep Purple along with the existing entries of Black Sabbath and Uriah Heep. But as much as I agree with Jeff’s post above, I have plenty of other musics I would put into the same category.
So here, for posterity’s sake is a short list of significant (for me only) gaming music:

  • The Revenge album by Eurythmics. There is nothing gamist about this album at all. I just loved it, and was listening to it a lot at the time we were holidaying in Broome and I was make up a pair of 50th level Paladin-Rangers (AD&D1). I never played them (strangely enough), but I made up wonderful backstories and even wrote them up in cool little notebooks. Also see this post regarding the fun of just making up characters for no good reason.
  • 5150 by Van Halen. Another not-very-gamy album, but my brother Jason and I listened to it a lot around the same time as the above and forever after. Played many rounds of B1-9 In Search of the Unknown to this music.
  • Faith No More. Any and all albums. Just favourites of my late-high school gaming group (in our post-HS years).
  • Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell II also made a great soundtrack.
  • Having already mentioned Black Sabbath, I would draw particular mention to the album Tyr, which is full of references to Nordic mythology, much like Tolkien. One of my favourite albums of all time, and games especially well with GAZ7 The Northern Reaches

There are plenty of gaming soundtracks available out there. A few game bloggers posted recently about the death of the composer of the Conan the Barbarian soundtrack. Not having listened to it, I can’t comment, but I have put some tracks on my itunes wishlist. Also stratos, a co-member of the Christian Gamers Guild, creates official gaming music here.

Anyone else out there got some great game-memory triggering music (of any variety)?

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Nostalgia trip has been triggered

I was just reading Uncle Bear’s blog and was overcome (as he had been) with a wave of nostalgia for a time when sitting down (by myself usually) and rolling up an entire campaign’s worth of characters was a worthwhile use of an afternoon.

I want to set aside some time to sit at my kitchen table with some dice, generating characters for games at are gathering dust on my shelf. I want to do it for the sheer joy of it, the relaxation of it, without fretting about how unlikely it is that these characters will get used. I need to just allow this aspect of roleplaying to be fun again, and enjoy the zen of analog gaming.

Yeah, me too.

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