Saturday, November 23, 2013

13th Age: Conclusion of the Case of the Missing Grimoires

Session 2, Mission 1: Case of the Missing Grimoires

When last we left our heroes, they had more suspects than they had facts on the ground, and they were going nowhere fast. Aurora had an in with Sarvag, seeing every book he chose, and what sections he needed copied down for his notes. Mairenne and Antis were getting along swimmingly. Annel and and Mercillina had decent successes connecting with their targets of inquiry, but nothing too insightful had come forth. Let alone the possibility of it being the cleaning staff.

The next day arrived and various groups met up. Aurora and Merci were the first of the PCs to arrive, while Sarvag was waiting till dawn's light touched the door, that being the signal that they were open for business. Everyone else rolled in slowly through the morning. Nadezhda started to make friends with Sarvag's soldier's who had set themselves up in the tavern across the way from the library.

Little directly occurred in the morning; however, Sarvag, Crito and Kinarao Epukena all managed to present compelling letters to force Antis to open the vault (i.e., they had sufficiently powerful patrons where it would be unwise to anger) - where the most sensitive of histories and stories, as well as the most powerful of grimoires.

You know, the type that were stolen and recovered well on their way to the Diabolist? Yeah those.

Antis, realizing that he had been outmaneuvered, agreed to open up the vault to all. However, as it would take time to unlock the ensorcelled locks and restrictions on the vault, it would be this afternoon. Antis draws Mairenne aside and asks her for a favor - could she ensure that her vouched for persons (i.e., the party) annoy and disrupt the studying of the other three individuals.

Meanwhile, soldiers are soldiers, and Nadezhda quickly ingrates herself with them. What can we say? Even the Crusader's troops like to bitch and moan. They are here on a detached detail because there are various regulations that state that commanders are not allowed to travel alone. Apparently, all of these rules are in the little black books that every Crusader's soldier carries with them and is expected to have memorized and be able to recite at all times.

Mairrenne spreads the word to the rest of the cadre, and Nadezhda convinces a local stray cat to act as a look out in case action is required on her part on the large meat shield.

Once the vault is opened, sigils pulsing through the green and gold spectrum, the true research for Sarvag, Kinarao and Crito begins. Sarvag and Kinarao make a beeline for the grimoires of summoning, and thus banishing, the demons; while Crito heads to the histories. The Cadre sits and watches while making pretenses to be loud, annoying, and intrusive.

The afternoon passes, and Annel sees Crito, the young priest of the Gods of Light attempt to hide a book on his person. She forthrightly confronts him, and he panics, driving a knee into her abdomen knocking her to ground gasping for breath and he begins to make a break for the exit.

And it is here that I ask for a initiative roll as the Cadre starts unleashing hell upon the poor priest. Aurora zaps him with a massive lightning bolt, and Merci hits him with blast of sound and with the two blast combined, they send books, pages, and paper everywhere, some a bit toasty with the side effects of throwing lightning in a library.

Wielding primal forces of the universe is like that.

Crito, deafened and staggered, continues his mad chase; the party, barring Aurora, pursues at a high rate. She suspects that Crito is a distraction and stays behind to watch Sarvag and Kinarao.

Outside Nadezhda gets involved; while the Crusader's forces in 'hostile' territory and not sure what's going on, are content to watch from the sidelines. Crito is hammered by a holy blast from Mairenne, and Nadezhda finishing him with a massive swing of her axe, though turning it to Crito with the flat of his blade. The poor priest flies about 10' landing in a crumple of flesh on the ground in front of a man dressed in dark leathers, flanked by a massive hulk of a man as well as several other thugs in the crowd.

"Well, I guess I didn't need to come looking for him after all," says Marcus, taking the book from Crito's satchel.

And the cadre, minus Aurora who is still inside, takes the fight to Marcus. And it is a bloodbath, but mostly on the thieves' side as party members drop as not only does Marcus' crew have thugs, they also have archers.

Combined forces? So not fair. Speaking of not fair, let's return inside where Aurora is alone with Sarvag and Kinarao and all the rare and powerful books. Nothing could go wrong, right?

Exactly. Aurora quickly notices that Kinarao is pocketing grimoires and challenges her, praying to the gods that Sarvag isn't in on it with her. There's a brief exchange, and Kinarao calls out "Uzbek, come to my side" and dark flames erupt around her as a demon begins to emerge from another world.

This is so not a good time to be outnumbered and outgunned.

Switching back to the to street fight, Marcus does eventually fall, and the big lunk is on his last legs, but the party is gravely injured (Merci had to make death saves) and the archers are by and large untouched and with better positioning, so it doesn't look good for the home team.

So I, in my benevolence, offer the players a choice, we can continue the double battles, or they can accept a campaign loss to be left alive, but the bad guys get away to fight another day. The players, after a short deliberation accept the loss....

And Sarvag, a massive sword materializing out of one arm and shield from the other arm, charges in, sending Aurora flying out of the way to impact with the wall and lose consciousness as the demon, summoner and forgeborn do battle.

Outside, the lunk grabs Marcus and the book and make a fighting retreat down the street, and plunk a few arrows into Crito to ensure that his story is never told.

The cadre recombines and it has been a war zone - the vault is scorched and damages, the smell of sulfur and brimstone are heavy and rank in the air. The city's militia arrive and begin to assess damage, and Mairenne begins to try and find a story that is something close to the truth, but keeps the party's unacknowledged status of Sigil Bearers intact for a bit longer.

Because as Sigil Bearers, they can just materialize the sigil and all this goes away for the good of the empire. Antis, understanding what happened pulled the young captain to the side and explained the facts of life to him, utilizing his long history and experience with the city to great advantage. (Hey, Mairrenne's schmoozing had to pay off....)

The case was closed, the noblewoman demon summoner escaped, the thieves got the book of demonic history for whatever purpose they wanted it for, and now the cadre has to write an after action report to explain this all to Vasorious Sicam.

Good ole Uncle Vaz.


The session went fairly well except for two things - the PCs split the party AND kicked off the two toughest planned encounters simultaneously. The two fights - between the thugs and the PCs and the summoner and the PCs were both designed to be Level +1 or Level +2 fights, because as a rule I run fewer fights and make them more critical and tougher. The loss of the sorceress's artillery really hampered the PCs, because it turned the archers into a massive force multiplier because while they were mooks, they were mooks who weren't being effectively attacked.

And I think with this fight I'm done with rolling for initiative unless it adds something to the game, I think I'll be switching to "popcorn initiative" as used in other systems, where whoever just went picks the next character to go (NPC or PC) and the round ends once everyone has a turn.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Inaugural Mission: Case of the Missing Grimoires

Our first session was last Friday - and I'm going to try and be good to write a short summary of each game here and on the wiki just as a system of record.

Session 1, Mission 1: Case of the Missing Grimoires

Our session opens in Santa Cora, the city of churches. The newly minted cadre of Sigil Bearers have finished their orientation training (that involved infiltrating the restricted area of the Elf Queen's palace, numerous bar brawls, some of which had their origins in fights over the origin myths of the world, stopping thieves who were too foolish to keep their voices down, and numerous other hijinks and shenanigans). They have been set up in various cover jobs - well Mairenne, the High Elf Cleric is back to her old job as curator of the Cathedral's archives, Annel, Elven Paladin is there as a researcher, but the rest have been set up in roles that suit them - Aurora, half-elven sorceress as bar wrench, Mercillina, the Trueblooded human bar as the inn's resident bard, and Nadezhda, the Dragonspawn Warrior, is the inn's biggest stable boy.

No one fucks with the horses anymore.

No one.

It isn't long before they receive their first summons, and make their way to the safehouse that has been established for them. There they wait in an inner room with no windows and only a single obvious door until Vasorious Sicam makes his appearance - the acknowledged leader of the Sigil Bearers, he has the Emperor's ear. He's a severe, stern, rigid man with the weight

And Aurora knows him as Uncle Vaz.

The mission is simple infiltrate a location and eliminate a thief. The Empire found a merchant smuggling tomes to the Diabolist, and it was obviously not the first set of tomes that the bitch in the north had received. The tomes were all related to Demons, and some of the most sensitive of the tomes contain actual rituals for summon specific demons.

With some preliminary legwork, they were able to trace access to the tomes to four individuals:

  1. Antis Dias - High Elf Head Librarian - With his access he'd have no problem pilfering.
  2. Crito Valunus - a young human priest
  3. Sarvag Steelheart - A Forgeborn soldier of the Crusader.
  4. Kinarao Epukena - Highblooded Human who's family is a minor nobility in the northern regions of the Empire.
With that Vasorious disappeared as quickly as he appeared, with nary a sound nor shadow flickering. Plumbing the depths of her memory, Mairenne recalls that Antis had, once upon a time, an issue with the rar purple Ryllae blossom, an Elven drug - which got him into a bad place, taking bribes to sell books. But he cleaned himself up, and the Priestess forgave him and gave him a second chance.

The cadre quickly divided up the targets - Mairenne would go in her official capacity, and focus on Antis, while getting the others the necessary credentials and access privileges (what happens when you game with a bunch of gov't contractors, it is ALL about the indoctrination briefings) Nijadja will be working oversight outside of the library, mostly because there's little for a 6'+ Dragonspawn who has little interest in studies. Annel will pursue Crito, Merci will speak to Sarvag, soldier to soldier, and that leaves Aurora with Kinarao.

The group quickly and easily infiltrates the library. And pursues their targets. Contact is easily made - Antis seems happy to have company, albeit a bit beleaguered with the larger than normal crowd; Crito is obviously stressed about something, Sarvag is very angry about not being allowed to take books out of the library and nearly knocks over a shelf (apparently nearly knocks over a shelf again) and Kinarao is mysterious and coy about her reasons for researching the demons.

Yup, all suspicious.

Time passes somewhat uneventfully, Nija explores the outside with the help of small critters. And takes note of the heavily armed soldiers of the Crusader occupying a restaurant within eye shot of the front doors of the library.

There's one small crisis point where Sarvag rants at Antis again, and Merci offers up Aurora's use as a scribe for 11 shillings a day. A bargain is struck, and Aurora is somewhat intimidated by 7' of hulking metal with a soul but no face.

Merci quickly moves to establish the friendship with Kinarao, who is definitely eager to get into the most restricted area of the vault where the grimoires of true power lay.

Crito hearing the clock ring out races out of the library and Nija pursues him; however, she eventually loses him in an alleyway.

At the same time, the cleaning staff comes in as dusk falls and the library begins to close. One of the cleaning staff is a halfling who stumbles and knocks over the pile of books that Aurora has been carefully taking notes from, knocking lose Sarvag's book marks and ruining her work.

Sarvag is very much. Not pleased. Not pleased at all. Ulan, the halfing janitor quickly learns that being small and quick is little help when you are in the monster's grip and several feet off the ground. After a brief confrontation with Antis, Ulan is hurled into the ground by Sarvag who takes one look at Aurora's work, tosses her a silver and commands her to attend at dawn the next day. 

Ulan picks himself up as Antis berates him soundly for his clumsiness. The party is almost instantaneously suspicious of Ulan and whether he is a plant for Sarvag or another player in this little game.

The session draws to a close with the group meeting back up to work over the first day of case notes.

GM Notes: For a first session things moved quickly. People eventually fell into their roles and seemed to have a lot of fun with what went on. Game sessions are only about 2-2.5 hours long, so they'll be short and hopefully information dense - I expect several chickens to come home to roost quickly next session.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

13th Age: Character Creation and Initial Thoughts

I am GMing again, and yesterday evening was character creation for 13th Age. I'm excited about the potential, and I'm thrilled that my players, as they look at the system and the world are getting excited as well.

It is going to be an interesting game - variety of skill and "intensity" levels at the table, but I billed it as a "beer and pretzels" level of gaming for a reason - I just want to sit down, have some fun, and roll some dice and engage in hijinks. Not to say that I'm not going to interject drama and the occasional hard decision - but I'm trying something different than my usual style. 

It was fun watching one of the players go through the book, laughing at the personal moments in the book, "At the GM’s option, the drama requirement can be waived if the table joins in a group hug," or, much as I did realizing, "I believe you've picked a perfect game for the way you run, and this group."

My wife is working through the setting material and loved the bit about the Koru Behemeth migration pattern and how it trails across the entire map and then some.

Right now the character list stands at the following:
  • Aurora, a half-elf born of human parents (it can happen on occasion), who is a Sorceress without any heritage that anyone can determine.
  • Mairenne, a High Elf cleric, who bears a tear of her goddess around her neck as her symbol to fight against the injustices of the world.
  • Mercillina, a Trueblooded Human (cause why should Elves be the only one to get fancy bloodlines) Bard, who has stood and looked across the demon-wracked Red Wastes and warded humanity against the inhabitants.
  • A Dragonspawned fighter who can speak to the animals as if they were people and has learned in her years that the animals are far kinder and more reasonable than people.
  • A Wood Elf Paladin/Courtier/Scholar who fights the good fight.
As a GM, I am loving how easy the system is to adapt and change. I've created a new talent for the Sorceress as she was struggling to find ones that worked for how she envisioned the character. I created races that give some different flavor to the past age.

Heck, I'm tempted to write up a psionic class, just to see if I can as I was inspired responding to something on Google+ about how psionics is different than sorcery, wizardry, or divine magic.

I am using Obsidian Portal again to host the game information, and the world is slowly being fleshed out.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Cultures In Review: Goblins, Hobgoblins, and Ogres

Handling classically "evil" races that have generally existed to be slaughtered by valiant PCs is always difficult. However, as I'm trying to make them viable PC races and cultures, which means that they can't just be classically evil and malevolent marauding bands of miscreants (yes, occasionally I write simply to amuse myself).

However, I do want them to fulfill their more traditional roles, which leaves me with having them been cast-out, exiled, and without a homeland, they are functionally refugees, filling in the gaps of other nations, living in ghettos and their own small clusters.

The fallen of Krenn wandering the Empire and surrounding nations, some looking to find a new homeland, others looking to just survive. While they all share similar personality traits being of the same culture, they are expressed differently.


Behaviors (5)

  • Every year we remember what we have lost with those closest to us, Krenn and non-Krenn alike.
  • We celebrate the victories that our people have wrought in these dark times.
  • All debts and charities shall be remembered and repaid in kind.
  • We are the Chosen to leads the Kren into the brighter future.
  • [Player Chosen]
Archetypes (3)

  • Mercenary Captain
  • Destitute entrepreneur
  • Political Mover and Shaker

Johari Traits (10)

  • Able
  • Assertive
  • Clever
  • Energetic
  • Observant
  • Organized
  • Proud
  • Sensible
  • [Player Chosen]
  • [Player Chosen]

Behaviors (5)

  • Every year we remember what we have lost with those closest to us, Krenn and non-Krenn alike.
  • We celebrate the victories that our people have wrought in these dark times.
  • A Pyrrhic victory is no victory at all, survival of the Krenn is the only true moral truth.
  • We must live in the world that is, not what could be, or what was.
  • [Player Chosen]
Archetypes (3)

  • Shadowstalker
  • Priest of the Old Gods
  • Craven Lickspittle 

Johari Traits (10)

  • Accepting
  • Adaptable
  • Clever
  • Observant
  • Patient
  • Quiet
  • Searching
  • Sensible
  • [Player Chosen]
  • [Player Chosen]


Behaviors (5)

  • Every year we remember what we have lost with those closest to us, Krenn and non-Krenn alike.
  • We celebrate the victories that our people have wrought in these dark times.
  • If we sacrifice what we were, what will we become?
  • Not confronting problems allows them to fester, and infect the community.
  • [Player Chosen]
Archetypes (3)

  • Linebreaker
  • Neighborhood Mother
  • Mason

Johari Traits (10)

  • Bold
  • Clever
  • Dependable
  • Energetic
  • Giving
  • Patient
  • Powerful
  • Sensible
  • [Player Chosen]
  • [Player Chosen]
Okay this I think is a workable solution for the goblin races of the Krenn. I'll probably sketch out history later at some point, but really, the point of this is for my players to go "Ooo, I want to play this, what do I need to do?" and not hand them 10 pages of notes regarding the history and interactions.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Cultures in Review: Elves

Where once there were three distinct races of elves, only one remains a viable population today, that's not to say there may not be a remote pocket of High Elves or Dark Elves, only the Wood Elves remain a viable force in the Eastern Nations, and even there, they are diffused over a wide territory and prone to infighting.

The Osani as they call themselves are a conglomerate of several different tribes of Wood Elves loosely bound together by family ties and agreements. There are five distinct major tribes of Wood Elves: Ashur, Hanisi, Kiya, Missun, and the Zan

The Osani, or Wood Elves,

Behaviors (5)

  • Are honest to fault, preferring a direct conflict to deferential politeness.
  • Honor the gods openly in public, and adorn with jewelry in their honor.
  • Warriors earn their place only after leaving the tribes for a year and a day and returning to the tribe.
  • "Me against my brother, me and my brother against my cousins, me and my cousins against the enemy."
  • [Player Chosen]
Archetypes (3)

  • The Unnamed
  • Hedonistic Shaman
  • Thief of the Flames
Johari Traits (10)
  • Athletic
  • Extroverted
  • Confident
  • Loving
  • Religious
  • Spiritual
  • Idealistic
  • Complex
  • [Player Chosen]
  • [Player Chosen]

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Culture in Review: Dwarves

There are two distinct cultural grouping of dwarves current in existence. For sake of analysis we will call them "Northern" and "Southern" dwarves. The northern dwarven kingdom, Thale, has been assimilated by the Empire approximately 100 years ago, so the stories of what was still ring strong. The southern dwarven kingdom, Garne, stands free, but eyes the Empire of Dragons warily.

I've set up the following using Quinn's gameable culture idea, doing about 80% of the outlining, while leaving some space for the players, when I finally do run this game, to add flavor of their own to the cultures.

Thaleans, or the northern dwarves:

Behaviors (5)

  • Maintain the Old Ways in the face of a changing world.
  • Understand that personal relationships and favors are how the world truly works, no matter what the laws say on paper.
  • Act in ways to maintain the dignity of the clan.
  • Honor those who came before and lifted us to where we are today and lift those who follow us.
  • [Player Chosen]

Archetypes (3)

  • Soldier of the Line
  • Apprentice Ritualist
  • Traveling Merchant

Johari Traits (10)

  • Spiritual
  • Dignified
  • Persistent
  • Humble
  • Helpful
  • Insightful
  • Caring
  • Clever
  • [Player Chosen]
  • [Player Chosen]
Garnessians, or the southern dwarves,

Behaviors (5)
  • Set aside personal need in order to follow the law.
  • Know that how an object looks is of equal weight to how it performs.
  • Prepare for the unexpected, else to invite misfortune into one's home.
  • Worship the gods on their day, but no other.
  • [Player Chosen]
Archetypes (3)
  • Noble Guardian
  • Manipulative Courtier
  • Failed Craftsman
Johari Traits (10)
  • Adaptable
  • Able
  • Energetic
  • Observant
  • Sensible
  • Precise
  • Assertive
  • Proud
  • [Player Chosen]
  • [Player Chosen]

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

I hate naming things.

So I suck at naming places, people, things. Absolutely horrible at it. Linguistics was never my strong point, and while onomastics was always a good way to write a quick five or ten page paper in undergrad, I think it may have broken my ability to come up with syllables that sound "acceptable" to each other.

So I'm never sure what to do - I can go with nearly purely descriptors for names, and keep everything fairly fairly straight forward, or if I want alien, I can open up a translator with a particular language and start translating terms until I find one I like. As long as I avoid common languages, I will probably be okay with anyone at my table saying, "Um, that's totally the wrong variant/intent behind that word," because my only defense is "It may be, but it is the one that I can pronounce the easiest!"

So folks who name characters, places, things something other than good English names, how do you go about doing it?

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

What Creatures Populate the World

What sentient beings populate the world? One of the joys of fantasy is the ability to pretend you are a pointy haired being who dances with trees; a stout dour earth worker, or any number of other possibilities.

One of the curses is that all the nations feel about the same - there's one elf nation, one dwarf nation, etc., - humans of course have a multitude of nations. As I said before, I'm going to try and limit the variety of the "monsters" in play, however, I'm also going to try and widen what's a permitted "player race" - 13th Age makes this easy by limiting what benefits races get inherent to the game. I may widen and tweak that as appropriate as the game continues onward.

Friday, May 17, 2013

TMC: Developing Icons for The Malcontent's Cause

Icons are a neat bit from 13th Age - they are major larger-than-life NPCs who your character has a relationship with in some way, it can be positive, negative, or "complicated". What I like about this set-up is that these are powers with whom the characters interact, either directly, or with some part of their regime. They aren't gods, they aren't distant, they are right here, in this world, making decisions.

While the 13 icons they provide are good, they don't completely work with what I'm envisioning. Here's my first draft at developing Icons for the game.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Campaign Idea: Banished!

"For exile hath more terror in his look, Much more than death." ~Romeo and Juliet, Act 3, Scene 3

I think my next campaign pitch, when I'm ready, will be about playing exiles. Inspired by colonial era, and in particular, at least the mythos of Australia as a land where Britain dumped its malcontents and criminals to get them out of the country causing problems. The land was brutal and nasty and actively vicious to the settlers, with flora, fauna, and natives all hostile to the incoming settlers.

Yes, this is hyperbolic exaggeration, but it is at least a nugget of the inspiration.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Domain Management: Buildings and Other Structures

To have a proper domain you need land. Once you have land, you need to build structures on that land.

Now in my idea regarding scope the rules wouldn't cover every structure, just the ones with narrative weight. Therefore, it would be assumed that there are small farms, timber yards, mills, and other small structures dotting the landscape.

Why? Cause frankly, I do NOT want to have to deal with that level of book keeping. I'm following a couple of Adventure, Conqueror, King System (ACKS) games, and one in particular (Chronicles of the Grim Fist) looks amazing, but the system is a bit too book keeping intensive for its domain management. So we aren't going to manage that degree.

So the buildings and structure we have are structures that will have narrative weight, they are important structures in the domain.

I've discussed before that I want three types of buildings - Production (Raw Goods, Trade Goods) and free standing buildings, as well as specific city/village buildings, however, I realized that I wanted another set of miscellaneous structures - for roads for the most part, but I'm sure I'll come up with (or have it strongly recommended to me) other items that should fall in there.

Production is split into two categories - raw goods and trade goods.

Production Buildings - Raw Goods
Raw goods production doesn't require an infrastructure. Originally, I had envision five types of goods - wealth; wood; stone; ore; and food, now I'm thinking I need to move "wealth" to its own category, and add another one for animal products (fur?), though I suppose I could always just turn food into cloth, like I initially thought about doing, i.e., the return of fish head pants.

I thought about what I wanted production buildings to do - whether they should produce a flat increase, or some sort of multiplier. And for right now I'm envisioning the grander answer of "both". Two levels of production building a regular one, which just adds a flat bonus to production, and a greater building which would not only add a flat bonus, but then multiple the total amount. So production buildings we have would be:

Wood - Timber Yard
Stone - Quarry
Ore - Mine
Food - Farm

Production Buildings - Trade Goods
Trade goods, to be built, would require infrastructure to be built to support them, I'll probably allow them to be built without a village or city to support them; however, there'll just be an additional cost included. I'm not sure what I'd want people to be able to produce right now. Cloth and iron come to mind as the two big ones right now.

Iron Works (Turns Ore into Metal)
Smithy (Turns Metal into stuff)
Weaver (Turns Food into Cloth)
Seamstress (Turns Cloth into stuff)

What's stuff? I don't know yet.

Other buildings I'd want to have producing stuff:

Marketplace (Enhances trade)
Academy (Turns People into professions)
Theater (Create Art)
Library (Store Knowledge)
Inns & Taverns (Create Trade, Secrets)
Warehouse (Store stuff)

Free Standing Buildings
Village - small gathering of families and people.
City - As a village grows it eventually becomes a city.
Outpost - Small garrison of troops
Fort - military base, some trade
Manor House - Administrative center
Castle - big fort, a really, really big fort.

Other Structures
Dams - Enhances quality of an area
Roads - trade multiplier
Walls - Costs money, but adds to a defense, greater walls, multiplies defense.

Once again, these are just rough draft notes, I'll happily take advice and add stuff in when I come back to actually crunch some numbers.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

So What's Next?

So I think I figured out what I'm going to try and run next, and I think it'll be Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, at least for a short term deal, though my definition of short term is probably off.

Why? Cause I want to run some non-apologetic heroics, after running "shades of grey" games for the last decade (Exalted, Changeling, Dresden), I want some "Big Damn Heroes" at my screen.

Plus, I've never run straight out super heroes before, capes, costumes, the whole bit.

It won't be this month and it probably won't be next month.

But time for something different.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Domain Management: Land

My biggest problem with dealing with land is coming up with a notion of scale. How much land should we account for in the system. Some part of me wants to just hand wave, but I know that'll eventually come back to bite me at some later date.

I think as a rule of thumb, I'll use "a day's travel across" as the maximum for a single spot of terrain. We'll assume that an easy day's travel involves a horse, or roughly 20 miles, or given a perfect square 400 sq. miles, or 400,000 acres. Immense, yes, but reasonable. Sure, some places might be a bit bigger, some a bit smaller, but that seems reasonable enough to use as a rule of thumb. This puts it on the small side of an U.K. county, which I'm okay with as that allows us some room to play with additional terrains to make a bigger county.

So using that, let's pull some land types, stealing mostly from a Birthright adaptation for 3.5:
  • Wasteland - Desolate, can't support any real existence. You might be able to find a few people who eke out an existence here, but you wouldn't want to be one of them.
  • Desert/Tundra - Little rain, little to subsist on, no real ability to build cities, or even villages, without the addition of some feature that allows for it (River/Oasis/Lake/Coast).
  • Mountains - The land of windswept peaks and cliffsides. Ore and stone are most prevalent here.
  • Forests - Deep heavily wooded forests stretching for miles, and places the light never touches the ground.
  • Hills - Little mountains, rolling hills, stone and ore can be found here, as well as the ability to raise some crops.
  • Plains - Flat open land without anything to break the wind, perfect for raising crops, raising animals, building cities, and thus very much desired and fought over.
Are there any that I'm forgetting? Things such as coast, rivers, I'll save for features and do that up later this week.

Right now I'm trying to avoid numbers till I figure out what I need to figure into my needs and wants.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Domain Management: Overview and Sketching Some Thoughts Out

So as I sit in-between games, my mind turns to domain management. Why? Because in about half my games, I seem to have players that would love to spend their time engaging in bureaucratic exercises of running an organization/city-state/nation, and most systems just wing it.

And I hate winging it. System bits that are winged never seems to have the emphasis/importance that they should have when improvised. Improvision is for things not critical/crucial to the plot or the players happiness.

So there are two basic types of management: Domain Management and Organizational Management; while broadly these items could be done in the same system, I think it is wiser to spread them out to emphasize different things.

There are three reasons I see to have domain management, the first is that your players enjoy it; the second is to generate resources, the last is to generate plots and challenges for the players to engage with. I want to keep these in mind when I'm looking at what I'm trying to accomplish.

Broadly speaking Domain Management is about obtaining and usage of land. In my mind, this involves four key components:

  1. The land itself - where is it, what features are on it, what can it produce are all key questions that need to be answered.
  2. The structures built - what buildings are there on that land.
  3. The key people - the who's who running the domain, other than the PCs.
  4. Resources - something to manage and spend
Those four items make up the key components of domain management. I want the feeling to allow for the building up from a small manor house to a large county seat of governance. After that point, I think things get a bit too large for what I'd want to have my games to be about. So let us look at each of the areas in some form of depth:


Land can be broken down into two subcategories - major terrain and features. Terrain is fairly obvious, mountainous, hilly, forest, plains, farmland, wasteland, desert, etc. Features would make parts of the land particularly appealing, challenging, or rewarding (or some combination of all three). Features would be things like coast line, major rivers (think like the Nile or Mississippi), major lakes (Great Lakes), ancient ruins, volcanoes  or other terrain that doesn't really fit as a major terrain piece.

My biggest conundrum with land is whether a county has one terrain type or a collection of terrain types. Or perhaps that's how one delineates the size of the domain - the number of terrain types, and just allow for repeated terrain types to be used. Thus the mountainous duchy could have Mountains, Mountains, Mountains, and one of farmland to indicate the grotto that exists.

Features are easily for me to conceptualize - they are one off bits that make that terrain different then the other terrain around it. 


Now the idea behind this is to assume that there are small villages/hamlets scattered across the terrain, just to ease up on the book keeping. Buildings are something more than that, they are things that generate plots or additional resources. I envision one type of structures being freestanding, not requiring anything other than the base resources to build; and another requiring a more civilized infrastructure.

Anyone who has played any sort of building game, especially board games understand the production aspect of free standing buildings - Sawmill, Quarries, Mines, Plantations and the like. They should add (through either doubling, or just a flat addition) to the efficiency of the the land itself.

The second type of free standing structures would be Villages and Cities, with Cities being an upgrade of the Villages. These would be built to generate income as well, the centers of trade that they are, as allow for the building of more advanced buildings.

The last type of free standing structures would be a series of military - outpost, small fort/manor house, fort, and castle. Storage capacity, military forces, and protection.

So what gets built inside villages and cities? Industry that produces finish goods - textiles, iron works; universities and other places of learning, theater and libraries. Most of the goals of these would be to generate income for the city/players to do things with in the game. Of course, it does mean that money.


People are simply that - the faces of the people working in the structures. More importantly, as the game progresses they should help provide plots that entertain the group, as well as providing potential bonuses and penalties.


Resources are things you either build with, sell, or purchase. I'd want to keep it relatively simple and limit the resources to the following five items: Wealth; Wood; Stone; Ore; and Food. More than five and it gets too complicated; too few and you have quirkier things, and I already can see the game of turning food (nominally sheep/goats) into cloth, and the jokes about my fish head pants.

Villages and Cities would nominally require Food to maintain, with each additional infrastructure item requiring more food. All structures would require some amount of Wealth/Wood/Stone/Ore to be built.

So there's the backbones of what I want to accomplish with domain management, give my players some systematic tools to manage resources, generate revenue and items for themselves, and generate plots for the campaign.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Complilation of Short Thoughts

This is me trying to purge my file of "Oh, THIS is interesting, but I don't know that I have enough to write about on it." A lot of these thoughts are around getting closer to what I want out of a game, and cutting out a lot of the fluff.

Party Creation Session Template - I like having groups of adventurers linked by shared experiences at my table - it makes it easier to integrate the group. While the first attempt at Dresden Files didn't go perfectly smoothly, it did make for a convenient backdrop to how the PCs met and interacted.  As I get older and my time becomes more valuable, I'd like to get to a lot of the meat of group interaction versus having to waste a session or two on "why am I here with these insane people again?"

Table Balance of Drama and Levity and Playing Cards to Play Cards, or to Socialize; the latter is actually more interesting for me, because of a constant conflict I have with my wife. We both love to play games, table-top, board games, or your standard card games like hearts or spades. However, we frustrate each other because our intent is different - when I play hearts, for example, I want to play hearts; I'm not there to socialize while occasionally dropping cards on the table. Socializing/talking is fine, but it is secondary to the enjoyment of the game, for her, she generally would rather socialize than play cards, so we have an inherent conflict. And that gets at the heart of these two posts - finding the right balance of gaming as a social activity because we are all friends, and getting into the meat of the subject.

Frankly, for my next game, I'm seriously contemplating trying just a beer and pretzels social event because I'm frustrated with the distractions of life.

Which probably just means I'll get one of my more serious games.

The Currency of Time - I've often said that time is the most valuable resource, because it is the only one that you cannot make more of. I'd love the idea of making informational checks (knowledge/perception) cost something so that they are valuable. But the question is how to do that - one of those is to assume some form of "fail forward" where your failures are successes, but with complications.

Quest Generation -  A very rough draft of a question generation for a hip hop RPG system that I'm following for stealing for my own purposes. This gets back to the core of "not wasting time" of "okay let's jointly, PCs and GM, set out a framework of how we want the story to go" and then let the GM, i.e., me, throw in a few twists and challenges. How does this stop wasting time, because the players won't bobble around trying to figure out what the next, we all know and can move forward without wasting time at the table wandering aimlessly with either the players trying to figure out what the GM wants them to, or the GM trying to figure out how the hell  he's supposed to work this line of reasoning into storyline.

Stealing Beliefs and Instincts for D&D, while I'm not a huge fan of the Burning Wheel system as a whole, I do love stealing bits and pieces from it. In particular, with the idea of creating three driving beliefs for the character, one for what drove them to hit the road of adventure; the second for what ties them to the overarching campaign thread; and finally, a belief about the larger goal that they want. I could see tying them to some sort of XP system ala the Keys from Shadows of Yesterday, or milestones from Marvel Heroic Roleplaying. Once again, the goal is to make it easy on everyone to get invested with what is going on at the table.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Why I Don't [Want To] Play BSG Much Anymore

So there was a game of Battlestar Galactica at Madicon a couple weekends ago, and I realized, after a few moments, that I had no regrets that I missed it as I swooped by the game and chatted with the folks there.

Part of the reason was that it was Madicon, and I'm all about the shortish games (generally) and socializing and talking with my old friends and meeting a few new people.

But really, as I thought about it, it was the fact that while I love the concepts of the game and how it plays out for the early and mid-game, the end-game is just frustrating and drawn out, especially if the cylons are winning.

Admittedly, the Exodus expansion fixes some of this, and is why I won't generally play a BSG game without it; however, it is a band-aid to the core the problem that the cylon's best play is to drag out the game as long as possible, turning it into a grueling 3 hour+ game. And occasionally that's fun, but regularly? Not anymore, I don't have the time for not knowing how long the game is going to go.

What does the the fact that hidden cylon's win by "drawing the game out", it means that there is almost always an optimal solution, and that anyone who doesn't choose it is at risk of being a cylon, and especially if they are president (or admiral), should be removed from that role because it is a larger than average risk. For example, if your admiral does a short jump or two, then remove them, it could be that they got bad draws, but really, it is more likely that they want the group to take more jumps to suffer more crises and suffer that slow trickle. If they turn out to be human? Ah well, sorry the percentages weren't in your favor.

Except. And there's always an exception, and the one exception is that when you are playing with players relatively new to the game. They add a random variability of chance and unknown factors, because you can't assume that everyone at the table, human and cylon, are playing the optimal strategies for victory.

And playing in that grey zone of wondering whether someone's an ally or enemy, and/or just really bad at determining what the best play is? That's what makes the game fun for me, and I just can't get that when everyone knows what the best play is for their role.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Closing Out A Game

I hate ending games improperly. I love my multi-year sagas that end with some form of closure. Unfortunately, my Dresden Files game isn't going to get one of those endings.

I realized after running Exalted and then trying to run a game of Reign that I needed to swap genres. I needed to tell different stories to cleanse the palate and recharge my creative juices.

But this time it would be different, right? I ended my Changeling game just before the birth of my daughter, and then took about six months off. That should have been enough to let me go whole hog into my Dresden Files game.

Should have. Would have. Could have. Wasn't.

So today, I sent an email to my players confessing that I'd hit burn out and that after the current arc, I was going to take a break. And of the four, one had to drop shortly to up her athletic training, and another had the opinion of "if it isn't fun, why do it?"

Because it is fun, I just wasn't inspired. I had NEAT ideas on what to do next, but I couldn't find the motivation to move from the opening sequence to the neat imagery I saw as key points (subject to change to player intervention).

So what's next? A short break, maybe some board game ideas, then something different. Right now the lead contenders are Marvel Heroic Roleplaying or 13th Age for some good casual fun. Only War is definitely an appealing thought, but I'm not sure I could get the right folks for what I'd want to do for it.

But first? A break from running, or thinking about running games for a bit.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Choose Your Doom, Players

I've been playing around with the idea of players outlining scenario/campaigns for their PCs to survive - and letting them choose the amount of risk vs. reward they want to take on. I think my first serious introduction to it was John Wick's Wilderness of Mirrors, where as the players develop the mission from the GM's premise, they get the equivalent of plot points.

Now I wouldn't want to do this for every mission, but it would definitely clear up a concern I have about players not getting the spot light time they want, or feeling like they are getting challenged enough (or perhaps they just want a laid back, casual, run and gun scenario versus the nail biting, everything is at risk type of scenario).

What would it look like? It's is going to vary from game to game - my Dresden Files game is going to have different challenges than a D&D game. But some basics I would expect there to be a premise, challenges, and rewards. Using my Dresden game as a basis:

Premise: One line summary is happening. "A conclave of evil wizards is headed into Denver to summon the dark gods."

Challenges: There are three primary challenges:
  1. Determining who the wizards are;  
  2. Determining how they are going to do it; and
  3. Stopping them from summoning the dark gods.
Challenge 1: Who Are the Evil Wizards
  • Large number of Wizards, who have powerful lackeys.
  • Other wizards are in town, who may be innocent of THIS plot.
 Challenge 2: How Will It Happen
  • Happening at a collection of ley line points outside of town.
  • Going to require a large sacrifice of energy, perhaps a local spirit, perhaps lots of people. It won't be subtle.
  • Requires knowledge and understanding of the rites.
Challenge 3: Stopping Them
  • Direct force at the ritual site with ensuing pyrotechnics of massive wizardry battle.
  • Obtaining all resources before they get them, preventing them from summoning local spirit to sacrifice, rescuing kidnapped children.

Rewards: Significant Milestone, or Major with combination of another plot line, such as the New World Order pursuing one of the PCs.

For another system, I'd want to rate each challenge based on the number of obstacles and the difficulty of each obstacle. I probably could do it with this game, and granting each area a "Max" rating from +1 to +20 for the max skill of the opposition.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

What Do The Players Do?

I feel like I have trouble describing what is critical in my game for people to be able to do. The core of many games could be considered: 1) Fight; 2) Explore; and 3) Socialize. I think this came up most  with the D&D Next play test; however, I also saw it in reference to a Marvel Super Heroes hack where instead of "Solo/Buddy/Team," the split was along "Fight/Explore/Socialize" dynamic.

For my games, I'd probably alter the default list slightly and add a fourth category: 1) Fight; 2) Explore/Movement; 3) Investigate; and 4) Slice of Life. To break it down:
  • Fight: Fighting is easy, doing harm and avoiding harm done to you. You can scale this up to size of the fight and range.
  • Explore/Movement: Movement within spaces, as well as getting places in particular methods. Primarily for overcoming environmental obstacles, and the occasional chase scene.
  • Investigate: Replaces social in my eyes, because generally people don't generally talk to just talk, or rather, they do, but dice don't hit the table then, they talk to find out stuff. Plus, the good ole "search the room for the clue" schtick.
  • Slice of Life: My games seems to have a lot of the players just wanting to explore the world, set up merchant empires and other things that don't bring them into conflict with other people, but may generate plot lines that do so.
I think the problem with this set-up comes that Fight/Explore are what you do; Investigate is what you do; Social is how you do it, so if perhaps we added a fifth category of "Influence" that would make more sense for when I tell people what my games are generally about is the following, in order of game time used: Investigation, Influence/Fighting, Exploration, and Slice of Life. That seems a better representation of at least how my Changeling and Dresden Files games represent themselves.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Health Tracks, Revisited

It is easy to kill a player character, so that decision doesn't really interest me. However, a player saying, "This cause right here, this one is worth me dying for," is damn interesting to me as a GM. I enjoy the way that Fate, per Dresden Files, has a stress tracks to determine when a conflict ends, as well as allowing the player to choose to take long term wounds to stay in the fight as well; similarly, Fate bribes the characters to be willing to lose a conflict by gaining Fate Points by conceding before a roll is made.

I, previously, riffed on an idea by setting stakes overtly in what you were willing to risk. On my Facebook page it received a lot of flak because it broke how people thought it should work - because the principle is that minions should be less likely to risk death. They made a decent point, even with my preference of sacrificing reality for a really good narrative, i.e., modeling fiction, not physics.

So how to deal with health came up again in terms of how to model cinematic damage. And there were a few two ideas there that I wanted to capture:
  • The more you get beaten up, the more you demonstrate your determination to fight, the better you fight. Tenra Bansho Zero, an Japanese Fantasy game, flat out has two stats: Vitality, which once lost, you are knocked out, and Wounds, which give you a bonus to fighting instead of losing vitality.
  • There is no real death spiral in cinematic fighting, ala Savage Worlds, there's a shaken/stunned, maybe an injured, incapacitated/taken out, and dead. And the last is rare for the hero.

So how do I combine these? To do something vaguely White Wolf inspired (i.e., rating of 1-5) not unusual, I'd envision the track looking something like this (and remember, my young toddler probably has more artistic skills than I do):

The principle is the same, bad stuff happens to you, you mark off Body or Spirit tracks depending on the nature of the bad stuff. If you don't want to mark off the bad stuff, you mark off a point of Grit, get a die bonus - with more and more grit showing how bad you want to risk it.

Then the question is, how you do recovery Grit? The first way that comes to mind is through time, you slowly regain more and more Grit. In the short term, you might take long term penalties, i.e., wounds to regain the Grit.

I'm not entirely sure how to make it work, as I don't really have any other bits to hang off it, but it was an interesting enough concept I wanted to record it, so in six months when I get bored at work and want to play around, I can think about how to incorporate this into a more holistic system.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Things I Need To Work On: Pacing and Scene Control

Despite primarily being a GM for the last decade and change, there are some things still I don't do all that well. For example, I suck at in-character voices/accents that aren't absurdly silly. I can do some wonderfully good insect demon, scary little demon girls, and the similar ilk. And at this point, I never going to be a Nicole and master those particular theatrical arts.

However, something, if I'm going to continue being a GM most of the time - I need to work more on my pacing. It showed up in my Exalted game, it showed up in my Changeling game, and it is showing up in my Dresden Files game (oddly enough my Adventure! game didn't have many of those moment, but some of that may be distant hindsight being rose filtered, or a bunch of really awesome players, this being my blog, I'll go with the latter).

So let's talk about what makes a scene. You can get advice all over the place, and admittedly fiction isn't always a good translation to gaming (because you only get one chance, generally to have the scene, and you don't get an editor to review and revise it to make the dialogue sing), the best summary I've seen is that a scene has three purposes:

  1. Establish or reveal facts about a character;
  2. Establish or reveal facts about the setting; or 
  3. Move the plot forward.

It is the third purpose, moving the plot forward, that's my sticking point, as the first one is more dependent on the players as far as establishing facts goes, though certain situations may be engineered to bring that about; and the setting details, I think come out in play fairly clear. But my players are free to argue with me.

I think my problem comes down to the third one, where I'm stuck on how to encourage my players to move the plot forward. One the best examples of this was in my Exalted game, where there was a Big Bad Deathlord, nigh indestructible, though each had an Achilles Heel, through various hijinks it came out that this Big Bad's weakness was Love.

Now me as a ST figured this wouldn't be too difficult a solution. I was willing to go with just about (note that caveat) any solution that fit within the theme of Love, figure out what the Deathlord loved and lost (ala Rosebud), or social-fu her into loving something and using that to defeat her. A session or two pass, and the players are stumped, and I think had gotten to "Puppies are love, right, so let's just throw puppies at her." Shortly they bumped into a Fae, with a sword named "Love", which WAS the Fae's emotional of Love forged into a blade, and many sessions later, we had a PC fake betraying the party to be his love of a previous life, and then slide Love into her.

A bit hokey? Yes. But it seemed the only solution that worked.

Maybe it is just me being bad at figuring out what motivates my players - my Changeling game became synonymous in my head for doing it's best to negate Chandler's Law, every time I'd throw a direct threat with some loose ends for them to follow-up on, they'd negate the direct threat, but ignore the threads. Even when those threads would burn them in following sessions.

Maybe I'm just not blatant enough. Whatever the reason, this is something I'm going to need to focus on so my players stop getting bogged down in the beginning and middle of arcs - just not sure how to do that without it feeling too forced or like a trail bread crumbs for the players to follow.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

40k Only War Bug Bit Me

So, based on the recommendations of my friends, I picked up the new 40k book from Fantasy Flight Games: Only War, and it arrived Friday.

And yeah, the gaming ADD bug has bit me hard. New! Shiny!

But can you blame me? Fantasy Flight put out a beautiful book, in a universe that eminently gameable - 40k. Yes, it is grimdark and bleak, but if you are okay with that, it just works. As a GM, I don't have to figure out why the other "heroes"/"supervisors"/etc. aren't here doing this task, there's just the PCs so if they want it done, they will need to do it themselves! Or get shot by the Commissioner trying and showing insufficient valor and fortitude. 

I'd run as one part grim and dirty combat, of going house to house, with the panic of not knowing what was inside the doorway. One part will be the preposterous of orders and commands, contradictory and impossible, that fills the stereotypical soldier's life. Then finally, the comedic silliness that is part and parcel of the gaming table, as translated into the actions of bored soldiers who are on permanent deployment and will never be going home.

I'd want to run it as a series of Campaigns, from start to finish, as a war/conflict moves forth on various planets. Very much in line with Gaunt's Ghosts. I'd need to come up with some sort of tracking system so as the arcs progress, the players can watch as how the fight moves forwards and backwards.