Mar 012014
 

Well, it’s been a few days since Dragonfall dropped and as a backer of the kickstarter I got a free copy. While I haven’t had a lot of time to play through the entire game yet, I thought I’d jot down some of my first impressions of the new campaign.

First and foremost, I’ve been enjoying the hell out of this adventure. It’s easily superior to the original campaign, Dead Man’s Switch. In many respects I wish that this campaign was the default, not DMS. I think that it serves as a much better introduction to Shadowrun and the more open ended hub-based style is more comfortable for modern gamers. With more choices, better writing, and far more interesting teammates I find it a full on upgrade for the game.

Dragonfall is set in the Flux, an area of Berlin that should be familiar to many old school Shadowrun fans. For those not entirely familiar, the basic rundown is that Berlin is mostly free of Corp influence and the government is in a state of semi-stable anarchy. It was never a setting I really ran in, but I find that they’ve done a good job of translating it quite well. There’s a great deal of flavor packed into a small area.

I’m not that far into the game, but so far I’ve really liked what I’ve seen. I’ve already noticed a lot of small improvements, such as being able to use your rigger teammates much more often (though not as often as I’d like). Biotech has gotten a lot of love as well, with several conversation triggers based on it. Plus spellcasters get the chance to flex their muscles as well. All in all it feels like you have more options and that your character archetype matters a bit more.

One very nice feature is that they’ve added in a “save anywhere” function – a feature sorely lacking in the original campaign (and that feature has been added to DMS as well). I’ve also noticed some new cyberware and weapons as well. Conurer’s even get a weapon spell similar to the mage’s powerbolt. Some new totems for Shaman’s as well, including one that reduces spirit escape chance to 0% for a short time (very nice for Shamans!). All in all the new stuff are nice extra features that don’t detract from the original setup.

Other than that the game is still much like the original. Isometic and turn based combat. All of the old stuff is there and still functions just fine. Really the improvements here all in the story and campaign. I’m not going to spoil the storyline or really talk about it, since it’s a lot more fun to discover that for yourself (and I haven’t finished it anyway).

The greatest new thing I like is that you now have a core team of runners that you can hire for free. They’re nicely written and have a lot of extra dialog options. It also appears that each companion has their own little story that you can unravel. So far my favorite new companion is Deitrich, a Shaman with a fun past. Glory is great as well and I cannot wait to find out what’s going on with her (though I will say that if you’re playing a shaman/mage you have some interesting options when you first start talking with her).

So far the game looks great and I’ve been having a ton of fun. I highly encourage everyone to check it out. It’s well worth the price of admission (and if you were a backer you get it for free!).

Feb 282014
 

So, a long while ago my buddy James posted a fiction challenge on his blog. Well, I haven’t touched this one in quite a while, so I figured what better way to get back into the swing of things? Given that one of my buddies is starting a new D&D game soon, I figured I’d do a little short story about my new tiefling Artificer, Kazamir. It’s the story of how he found his famliar, an ooze named Sploot. Hope you enjoy.

 

Nothing Ventured

Kazamir’s tail curled over his shoulder and swept the battered hat from his head. With a trembling hand he wiped the sweat from his brow, careful not to nudge the delicate trap mechanism in front of him. He took in a deep breath and replaced the hat before bending down once more.

He surveyed the scene in front of him. He’d managed to pry the thin sheet of granite from the floor, revealing the complex set of symbols and runes underneath. The pressure plate was clearly wired to a trap in the room, but try as he might he just couldn’t suss out what it triggered.

Another deep breath and he glanced up from the plate to survey the hallway again. The walls were finely cut granite, etched with arcane runes of some ancient and completely undecipherable language. The floor was made of similar stone, though unadorned and laid out in careful one foot squares. The ceiling was only ten feet above him and also unremarkable. The only light came from the dim glow stones fitted into the ceiling every ten feet. Several of them had lost their magic and hung limply, lifeless orbs of dull gray crystal.

By Vecna’s cursed eyes, what does this trigger? Kazamir growled in frustration, a low and resonant sound at odds with his tenor voice. Another deep breath to calm himself and he closed his eyes. He carefully lifted his hands and held them outstretched, fingers splayed. Slowly he opened his eyes and started to feel for the flow of magic in the room.

His fingertips began to tingle and ever so slowly he built a mental picture of the mana flows. It was a delicate weaving, though the power behind the runes could never be fully disguised. He shifted his hands to the left wall and very carefully felt for the nexus of energy. There. The central rune roughly ten feet down the hallway, about ten feet up from the floor. That was one of the anchor points. Good. That was a start.

Slowly he pulled his hands to the right, searching in the opposite spot. Yes, the same thing on the wall. So. The runes were set up in a sympathetic net. Which meant that they had to be triggered from a primary ignition point. Which had to be the pressure plate he’d found. Once more he slowly spread his arms so that each palm was pointing directly at each anchor point.

Another deep breath to calm his nerves and focus his mind. Kazamir then slowly pulled his hands inward, letting his arcane senses guide his hands through the energy flow and down into the floor. Inch by inch they moved closer until his hands were nearly touching the the largest rune of the pressure plate.

Okay, so the flows lead to this rune here. Kazamir finally opened his eyes and glanced down at the rune. It was an inverted half dragon, a rune known even in this age. The half dragon wasn’t very complex, which was what made it an excellent trigger mechanism. Even the slightest flaw or shifting would break the anchor and release all of the stored energy, likely in a cataclysm of fire and lightning. Not a good way to die.

So, I can’t just break it or the trap will erupt wildly. No, I need to shunt the energy into the secondary runes, let it leak out gradually. But the only way to do that is by altering the rune. And to do that I need to etch it with acid. And if I mess up… well, I better not mess up!

Kazamir took in another deep breath and his nose wrinkled? The winds in the old ruin had shifted, bringing with them the stench of some terrible carrion. Probably some dead rat Kazamir thought. He pushed the smell out of his mind. No time to lose focus.

His tail deftly probed in one of his belt pouches and lifted out a small vial. He took the vial in his left hand while his right rummaged around in the upper pouch of his armor. He pulled out a very thin glass tube and with careful movements popped open the vial. In went the tube and with his finger capping the top he brought the pipette of acid over the rune.

One more deep breath and a prayer to Avandra and he was ready. With the finest of movements Kazamir slowly started dribbling acid on the rune. The material sparked as it hit the magic and Kazamir held his breath. One… Two… Three…

Nothing exploded. That was good. He glanced up at the wall and noticed that two of the runes were now glowing a cheerful green. A heavy sigh of relief and Kazamir bent down again. Another dip into the vial and the processes started anew. More sputtering. One… Two…

Pain erupted across Kazamir’s back. He screamed and tried to wrench away from the source of pain: right onto the pressure plate. The tiefling only had an instant to take in the situation. The floor and walls around him thronged with power. Behind him he saw a terrible worm-like creature. It had hundreds of single clawed legs and a mass of tentacles beneath a set of mandibles and a many-toothed mouth. Its beady black eyes were on elongated stalks and it absolutely reeked of carrion.

And then the world exploded.

 

* * * * *

Kazamir groaned as he regained consciousness. His vision was nothing but a blur of colors and his entire body hurt like never before. His head swam and he tried to remember just what had been so important before the world had ended. Think! Slowly he reclaimed his wits. Oh! Carrion Crawler! Avandra save me!

Kazamir forced himself to focus on his surroundings and his body. His whole body hurt. That was good. That meant he wasn’t paralyzed. He glanced around the smoldering remains of the room. The floor all around him was covered in blackened rubble. The walls rose a good fifty feet above him, the sides smoothly polished black stone. It was hard to make out anything beyond that, as the only light came from the sole remaining glow stone from the ceiling high above.

A pit trap. And as if that wasn’t enough, Kazamir could hear scuttling from up above. He slowly moved his head and caught sight of the carrion crawler advancing down the wall. Well, at least I’m not alone in my misery he thought as he took stock of the situation. The carrion crawler was moving slowly, its once green hide now covered in burns and charred bits. One of its eyes had gone white and was oozing puss. One mandible was now nothing more than a charred stump.

Ha. I’m fireproof and you’re not he thought, managing the shade of a wicked smile. Kazamir tried to push himself to his feet and pain shot through both of his legs. He screamed again and quickly dropped back onto his back. Vecna’s eyes, I’ve broken both of my legs!

As the pain receded Kazamir took stock of the situation. He was laying on his back on a mound of rubble. His back felt wet and he could hear and feel the crushed vials in his backpack. He glanced down at his hips and breathed a sigh of relief when he spotted his trusty khopesh and wand. At least he had weapons.

A quick glance up at the wall showed that the carrion crawler was now halfway to him. It might be moving slowly but it was still approaching far too fast. And if it got him he was dead for sure. Their touch brought on paralysis and he doubted if he could kill it in a brawl even fully functional. Which meant that he had to kill it now, while it was still on the wall.

That meant the wand. He slid his hand down to his wand sheath and carefully pulled out the beautiful ash and crystal device. Pain shot through his shoulder and Kazamir sucked in a breath through gritted teeth. He only had one shot at this. His arm wavered for several critical seconds as he tried to get a bead on the creature.

The crystal wobbled over the creature and then suddenly all was right. Kazamir called upon the arcane power in his soul and spoke the words of power he needed. A brilliant lance of blue energy shot forth from the wand and impacted the carrion crawler right square in its midsection. CRACK! The energy beam split into several bands that wrapped themselves tightly around the aberration. The crawler squealed in agony as the bands contracted ever tighter.

The squeal went on for almost a second until there was the horrendous sound of splitting meat. The bands sliced through the crawler and the remains of the creature fell to the floor with wet splats and a gut churning stench. Kazamir let out a a sigh of relief. At least he wasn’t going to die in the belly of a monster.

But he was still quite wounded. Well, he could fix that, too. Kazamir closed his eyes and found the center within himself. One of the first things he had really mastered was the art of infusion, healing infusions in particular. He pulled upon his inner power and then spoke the word of power necessary to infuse a living soul with arcane energy.

Magic surged through Kazamir’s body, knitting bones and mending flesh. He gasped in sudden relief as the pain left his system. He panted for a few minutes in then slowly pushed himself to his feet with a groan. He glanced down at the ruins of his backpack and sighed. He pulled it up and shook it a couple of times and was rewarded with the distinct sound of broken glass.

Well, at least he wasn’t dead.

* * * * *

It hadn’t taken long for Kazamir to examine the bottom of the pit. It was roughly twenty feet square and devoid of anything interesting, save the rubble and a small pile of all his broken potion bottles. He shook his head and glanced up at the ceiling. At least he’d had enough sense to pack some rope and grappling hook.

It only took a few moments to get the grapple attached to the rope. As Kazamir was checking his knots he suddenly stopped at the sign of movement from a small crack in the wall. Leery of another attack, his hand crept toward his wand but stopped when the tiniest ooze he had ever seen flowed out of the hole.

It was no bigger than a small apple and a bright electric blue. The little blob suddenly flowed up into a little tentacle. The tip of the tentacle swiveled all around and then stopped dead when it focused on the pile of broken potions. The ooze suddenly quivered, turned a bright red, and let out a wet sounding SQULORCH!

Then the ooze shot toward the pile with a speed that was surprising given its tiny size. Within moments it was flowing around all of the broken bits, soaking up every bit of alchemist’s fire and potion that had been left. With every little tidbit the ooze shifted color and droned in a very pleasant way.

Kazamir stood in stark surprise for a moment before letting out a tremendous laugh. It was about the funniest thing he had seen in months. The little ooze let out a SPLETCH and darted behind the nearest bit of rubble.

“Ah, did I scare you, little guy?” Kazamir asked.

The ooze didn’t answer, but after a few seconds of silence it did resume its feast. Kazamir bit at his lip in thought. Just how long had the thing been trapped down here within absolutely nothing to eat. Was that why it was so small? And would it remain that small?

Kazamir slowly walked toward the pile of glass, being careful not to make too much noise or move so suddenly. After a few minutes of patience he was kneeling beside the potion remains, watching the little ooze finish off the last of the potions. With one last little SLURP the ooze finished off the last bits. It quivered and formed into a tentacle again, trying to see if anything else remained. When it spotted nothing it let out a mournful keen and turned a dull brown.

“Ah, poor little guy. You still hungry? Well, how about you come with me, then? I’ve always got extra bits of spoiled potion you can eat” aid Kazamir. Then he paused. Why am I talking to an ooze?

To his surprise, the little ooze suddenly grew a little bluer and rose up a bit. Slowly the little creature crept closer to Kazamir. With careful moments Kazamir pulled out his very last vial of acid and uncorked it, holding it out of the ooze. The little ooze then let out another trill and darted toward and into the vial. Almost instantly it turned an electric green and started humming.

“I’ll take that as a yes” said Kazamir, laughing all the while. “But just one question. What am I gonna call you?”

The little ooze only responded with a horrible wet sound. SPLOOT!

“Sploot it is.”

Oct 172012
 

The following rules can be used to run a Shadowrun game with the Leverage RPG. Unless otherwise noted, this conversion uses the standard Leverage rules.

 

Races/SURGE

Shadowrun features several unique races (and SURGE variants). Races are best modeled with a simple distinction, such as Orc or Troll. The advantages and disadvantages of such distinctions should be pretty obvious, such as a Troll having an advantage when bulk or strength is in question and a disadvantage when trying to act nimbly or in a suave manner.

Distinctions can also be used to model especially prevalent SURGE qualities, be they positive or negative. Try to keep the distinctions short and focus only on the qualities which are most important. If a SURGE quality would particularly help a single role, it can also be modeled as a Specialty.

Characters without a racial distinction are considered to be humans.

 

Cyberware/Bioware

Cyberware and Bioware can be modeled with signature assets. Such assets follow all the normal rules for signature assets, save for the fact that they cannot be lost or stolen (except in dire and messy circumstances). Characters with extensive ‘ware assets should consider taking a Distinction that signifies their modified nature (such as Chromed Up).

 

Awakened Characters

Magic is modeled with custom talents that have a few special rules. Once a character takes an awakened talent they are considered to be an awakened character and are subject to a few special rules.

  1. All awakened characters are required to take a distinction related to their magical paradigm and outlook (such as Rat Shaman). The player and Fixer should outline just how the magical paradigm can come to a characters advantage and disadvantage.
  2. An awakened character can perform a special assensing notice action. Unlike a normal notice action, the stakes are set by the character being assensed (use Intelligence + Willpower as a default). If the awakened character is successful, he immediately learns if the character possesses any awakened talents or ‘ware-based signature assets. At the Fixers discretion the assensing player may also learn the target’s current mood and physical health.
  3. A fully awakened (defined as any character with both the Spellcasting and Summoning talents) can astrally project. While doing so the character’s body is inert and the only actions the character can take are Notice Actions, as they have no physical form. The upside is that the character is completely hidden form unawakened characters and they can pass through non-warded physical objects. The downside is that the Fixer gains a shiny new Comatose Body (d6) asset to play with.
  4. Any complication that arises from the use of an awakened talent is considered to be magical in nature. Perhaps the character makes a great deal of noise, or suffers spell drain. Or maybe that spirit they just summoned isn’t quite as obedient as it first seemed. Fixers are encouraged to get creative with awakened complications.

An awakened character can use magic to enhance their roles. Whenever an awakened character uses an awakened talent they are using their magic to cast a spell or summon a spirit. In terms of game mechanics nothing changes, but any player of an awakened character is encouraged to describe just what spell they are casting and how it helps. As a general rule of thumb, the primary role of an awakened character can be used to describe their magical style.

  • Grifter: The character is skilled with Illusion spells that can confound an enemy or mask his true appearance.
  • Hacker: The character is skilled with Detection magic that can ferret out hidden information.
  • Hitter: The character is skilled with Combat magic that can blast foes and alter the physical world.
  • Mastermind: The character is skilled with Health and Manipulation magic that can enhance his team and deal with unforeseen obstacles.
  • Thief: The character is likely a bit of a magical generalist who focuses on spells that make him harder to spot or that get him past physical obstacles.

 

Awakened Talents

Adept

You use magic to augment your already impressive skills.
Role: Any
Activation: You are performing an action that includes your Primary or Secondary role. You can activate this talent only once per scene.
Effect: Add an extra d8 to your roll.

Spellcasting

You can cast spells to aid you in a task. But be careful: such spells can sometimes have unintended effects.
Role: Any
Activation: You’re performing an action and wish to cast a spell; spend a Plot Point for extra effect.
Effect: If you wish, add an extra d6 to your roll – but if you do, you must also add a d4. If you spend a plot point you can step the d6 up to a d8.

Summoning

You can summon spirits to aid you or your companions in a task. This sounds great, but sometimes the spirits are a bit uncooperative.
Role: Any
Activation: Spend a Plot Point.
Effect: You can spend a Plot Points to give a spirit-based asset to any other member of the Crew (including yourself). If this asset is used in a roll that results in Complication, the resulting Complication is automatically stepped up by 1 die. Fixers are encouraged to flavor the complication to the type of spirit summoned.

 

Technomancy

Technomancy is modeled with custom talents that have a few special rules. Once a character takes a Resonance talent they are considered to be in resonance and are subject to a few special rules.

  1. All characters in resonance are required to take a distinction related to their stream and outlook (such as Infomancer). The player and Fixer should outline just how the stream can come to a characters advantage and disadvantage.
  2. Characters in resonance can interact with the virtual world without the need for a commlink asset.
  3. Characters in resonance can sense the presence of each other with a standard Notice test.

Like an awakened character, a character in resonance flavors their hacking with the tools of a technomancer. Most of the time this will simply be flavor, but with the proper talents a technomancer can often find a distinct edge when in the matrix.

 

Resonance Talents

Compiling

You can compile sprites – living programs that can aid you in the matrix.
Role: Hacker
Activation: You are in full VR and the Fixer gives you an Opportunity.
Effect: You can create a sprite asset to aid you in your next roll taken when in full VR. If this asset is used in a roll that results in Complication, the resulting Complication is automatically stepped up by 1 die. Fixers are encouraged to flavor the complication to the type of sprite summoned.

Threading

You can compile new complex forms on the fly, letting you adapt to changing situations.
Role: Hacker
Activation: You may activate this Talent at any time when you are in full VR, once per scene.
Effect: You may replace one of your existing Hacker Specialties with a different one. The change last for the duration of the scene, at which point the Specialty reverts back to its previous form.

 

The Matrix

The Shadowrun universe contains a massive digital world known as the matrix. Any character can enter full VR with the right equipment (or mentally if they are a technomancer). While fully immersed in virtual reality, characters can perform almost any action they could in the physical world, with one difference. When performing a non-hacking action a character replaces any Attribute die with their Hacker die. This represents the importance of skill when interacting with the matrix.

While immersed in full VR, most of the roles can be used for additional digital actions. The following list details some of the most common actions by role.

  • Grifter: Spoofing, Redirecting Traces, and other acts of digital subterfuge.
  • Hacker: Most digital actions should default to the Hacker roll. Even when the Hacker roll isn’t being used, it is used in place of the default attribute when using other roles.
  • Hitter: All forms of Cybercombat.
  • Mastermind: Analyzing a system, encrypting files, and other forms of digital analysis.
  • Thief: Decrypting files, cracking hidden files, or other acts of digital subterfuge.
Jun 202012
 

After months of struggling with my D&D 4e game, I finally melted down and asked for quarter. My group was gracious enough to let me run something else, and I’ve decided to choose Sundered Skies. I’ve long wanted to run this setting and now I have the change.

I plan on doing actual play reports of the sessions, but for now I wanted to share my formatted Setting Rules and some new character sheets I made. The sheets are as fancy as the one by Cheyenne Wright (http://arcanetimes.com/), but they are highly functional and form fillable. I share them in case other folks want to use them. I even included a blank and generic Savage Worlds sheet.

Sundered Skies Setting Rules
Sundered Skies Character Sheet
Savage Worlds Character Sheet

Mar 282012
 

Just a quick post to share the cheat sheet I made for 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons. It combines Page 42 with MM3 Monsters on a Business Card, with a few other handy references thrown in for good measure. I find it useful and hope others will as well. It’s a handy resource for those of us who have internalized a lot of the rules and status conditions.

DM Cheat Sheet

Mar 122012
 

As my comrades and I continue the development of several new game systems, the subject of ability scores has continually risen to the forefront. I figured I’d take a moment or two talk about the concept of ability scores as it relates to RPGs.

I think for most of us, attributes are seen as a given in an RPG. That likely stems from the games we were trained and raised on: the Storyteller System or Dungeons & Dragons. I’m not saying that every gamer started with one of those two games, but I’m betting that the majority of them have. And the one thing that both games have in common is that they use attribute scores to represent the raw physical and mental characteristics of a character. I’d be willing to bet that attributes are likely one of the most common elements of all RPGs.

But they’re not the only way to represent the raw attributes of a character. Take a look at FATE: it doesn’t have attributes at all. Instead the game relies on skills to represent your capabilities and aspects to represent anything extraordinary about your character. There are other examples, but I think that FATE is likely one of the better ones I’ve personally experienced and played.

Which is all just a way to say that lately I’ve been thinking a lot about attribute scores and what they mean. When thinking back though my old characters I don’t remember which D&D character had a 13 Strength or which one had a 12 Constitution. But I can tell you, even now, which ones I rolled a natural 18 or a natural 3 on. Those are the characters that stand out to me, because they had attribute scores that were clearly exceptional or inferior.

You see, with attributes all that really matters are the extremes, not the average. It’s usually assumed that a PC is going to be mostly average with a few areas that are clearly above average. Those are the attributes we care about, the ones that make your character special or unique. No one cares if you have an average strength, but if you’re the strongest there is (to paraphrase the Hulk) that becomes a central aspect of your character.

So why are we still mucking around with ability scores at all? Why not assume that everyone is average until they take something that makes them clearly above or below average. In one of the systems I’m developing with my friends we’re using the idea of traits. When you take a trait you’re clearly saying that your character has something about him that’s remarkable. That the trait you’ve chosen is important and you want to use it. Which I think leads to really interesting situations.

Which to me is starting to lead us in really interesting directions. When you start worrying about the exceptional suddenly you can design around those high and low points, not the boring median points. Only time will tell if we can really pull it off.

Dec 162011
 

I am an unabashed Changeling: the Dreaming fan. I can chalk that up to the fantastic Storyteller (hi Jamie!) who introduced me to the game. It was never the most popular of the old World of Darkness games, but for me it was one of the greatest games White Wolf ever published. It was absolutely rife with story potential and the concept of past lives and old pacts was absolutely chock full of possible stories. We played it regularly back in college but I really haven’t touched it since, a few chats not-withstanding.

And the reason for this? In this day and age the mechanics feel pretty darn clunky. It never even made it to the revised edition, so it’s got some pretty big mechanical warts when you get down to playing. But the potential is absolutely there, just waiting to be polished up and uncovered.

I’ve seen a few fan revisions on the ‘net, but for the most part they never sat right with me. And while Lost is a great game, it doesn’t feel much like Dreaming to me and so that’s not a suitable replacement. Which means that I’m likely going to have to do the revision work myself.

Right now I’m leaning toward one of two approaches. The first is a more faithful recreation using the new World of Darkness engine. Most of the work is already done for me and I can snag most of the Kith abilities directly from Lost, which will save time. The only big bugaboo would be the magic system, which was pretty unique. At first thought I’d make both Arts and Realms the main magical abilities, with dice pools being Art + Realm + Skill as the dice pool. Rather than limit your targets by Realm I’d instead use Realm as a dice pool bonus, with higher difficulties for different targets.

The second option would be a thematic conversion using either Dresden Files or Strands of Fate. I’m thinking that Strands would likely be better for this sort of conversion, given that it’s more modular and less tied to a specific setting and mode of magic. If I go with Strands I’ll likely drop the Realms and make the Arts much more general in application.

Just a few thoughts to keep the blog alive, since I’ve been slacking a lot.

Oct 132011
 

It’s time for me to come clean. I don’t live up to my nickname or my finely honed “killer GM” act. Truth be told, I root for my players at every turn. And in my opinion, so should ever other GM.

I didn’t always have such a caring outlook toward my players. Back when I was a wee apprentice GM with his first handful of d20s I thought it was my job to destroy and hamper my players at every turn. That they weren’t having fun unless I brutally beat them down and pounced upon every little mistake. In short I was an utter bastard of a rules-lawyer and I cringe when I think about the first few games I ran back then. It’s taken me years and quite a few good examples to break out of that mold. I’m hoping that I can help others learn from my many mistakes.

When my friends and I gather around the table each week we’ve gathered to have fun. And what’s more fun than using all of your shiny powers and abilities to hack your way through hordes of enemies? Not much, if my own opinions and the words of my friends are any example. Every player crafts a character that can do awesome things and as such they would like to do those awesome things as many times as possible. If the character is dead, horribly mutilated, or otherwise shut down they can’t use their cool powers and thus the fun is reduced.

Now, this is not to say that I let my players walk all over me and my encounters. If every battle is a foregone conclusion there’s no fun in that either. No, a GMs job is actually quite a bit more difficult than you’d think. As a GM it’s your job to make winning hard but not impossible. You have to enter each fight with the idea that you’re going to be defeated every time. The real trick is making your defeat difficult and challenging without denying your players their fun (or your own fun, either). It takes a particular mindset to really get okay with the idea that you’re going to lose every time.

When you sit down at the table you have to wail, and gnash your teeth, and shout grandiose predictions of doom. You have to make the players sweat at every turn while knowing deep in your heart that the battle has already been won – unless the players get stupid or the dice go really wonky. You have to design fights and encounters that are beatable and designed to highlight the awesome abilities of each character. In boxing terms you have to be an “opponent” – a fighter destined to lose the fight and make the guy across from you look good.

While there are a great many skills required to really be a good GM, I’d argue that this mentality is one of the most important. You have to want the players to not only succeed but succeed in an awesome manner. You gotta lace up your gloves, step into the ring, and let them beat the crap out of you for ten rounds before finally falling to that knockout punch. In short, you have to learn how to lose.

Oct 022011
 

Well, it finally happened. Just returned from our monthly D&D game and our entire party was killed. Suffice it to say that five 4th level characters couldn’t stand up to 4 Stirge Swarms and a Catoblepas. Rest in Peace, noble adventurers.

Brother Roderick, Human Cleric of the Silver Flame
Alrik, Dwarven Invoker
Alarich Hellekanus d’Deneith, Human Fighter
Lillithana, Kalashtar Avenger of the Path of the Light
Knappe Truc, Changling Rogue

It was a tough fight and I could see the DM realize what was happening. I think any DM who’s run for any amount of time knows that you rarely really want a TPK. Sure, we may wax poetic and threaten such actions, but ultimately all they do is derail a game. All rolls were made out in the open and it was just one of those things. But man, I feel for my friend and it makes me realize just how bad things can get with a few bad/good dice rolls.

This situation also showed me just how deadly swarms can be in 4th edition. The Catoblepas was tough, but it was the swarms that doomed us all. We just didn’t have enough burst powers and the terrain was very disadvantageous. Still, I hold no grudges and now I get a chance at playing a leader, which should be fun.

Sep 292011
 

Tinkering on my Savage Fallout setting continues and I think I’ve come up with a rather clever brainstorm. In the Fallout universe ghouls and super mutants are really just mutated humans. So why not ditch normal races and instead treat those two variants as a small series of background edges? Everyone starts as human but if you want to play something different you take the background edge that then opens up additional racial edges. This allows a player to invest in their race to their own preference. For some folks race is little more than window dressing and they’d rather have fewer racial hindrances. For others race is important and this allows them really exemplify their own race.

Here’s the short list of what I have now:

Ghoul
Requirements: Human
Your character is immune to the effects and hazards of radiation. If he is exposed to large amounts of radiation he may, at GM discretion, become a glowing one or feral ghoul. In addition, the character is completely sterile and practically immortal. You may not take the Attractive edge.
Suggested Hindrances: Chem Resistant, Decrepit, Elderly, and Ugly.

Cast Iron Stomach
Requirements: Ghoul or Super Mutant
Your character can survive on material others wouldn’t even throw away. He is immune to food and water-born diseases and poisons. He also rolls Survival at +2 when foraging for his own food and water.

Enhanced Healing
Requirements: Ghoul or Super Mutant
Your character heals much more quickly than usual. He may make Natural Healing rolls once per day, instead of once every five days as normal.

Rad Regeneration
Requirements: Ghoul
Your character really has that healthy glow about him. He may make Natural Healing rolls once per hour in areas of low radiation and once every 10 minutes in areas of high radiation.

 

Super Mutant
Requirements: Human
Your character is immune to the effects and hazards of radiation and disease. In addition, the character is completely sterile and practically immortal. You may not take the Attractive edge.
Suggested Hindrances: All Thumbs, Arrogant, Delusional, Mean, Outsider, Overconfident, Ugly, Vengeful. Nightkin all possess the Addiction (Stealthboy) and most also suffer from Delusions.

Cast Iron Stomach
Requirements: Ghoul or Super Mutant
Your character can survive on material others wouldn’t even throw away. He is immune to food and water-born diseases and poisons. He also rolls Survival at +2 when foraging for his own food and water.

Enhanced Healing
Requirements: Ghoul or Super Mutant
Your character heals much more quickly than usual. He may make Natural Healing rolls once per day, instead of once every five days as normal.

Large and in Charge
Requirements: Super Mutant
Your character is especially large and knows how to throw his weight around. He gains a +1 to Size (which also increases Toughness) and his Load Limit is doubled.

Mutant Cunning
Requirements: Super Mutant
Your character’s intellect has been improved by his exposure to FEV. He gains a +1 bonus on all Smarts-linked skill tests.

Mutant Physique
Requirements: Super Mutant
Your character is an especially strong and vigorous specimen. His Strength and Vigor are increased by one die. Unfortunately these physical gifts have come with a downside: you must choose one additional Major hindrance. You do not receive any benefits for taking this hindrance.