Jul 212016

After dealing with all of the problems in and around Coffin Rock, the posse has hit Seasoned Rank. The posse has also lost and added some new members. Plus, I figured folks might want to see how the posse has advanced since the game started.

First up, let’s take a look at our departed (and very missed!) character, Tens. For the purposes of the story, Tens is holed up in her workshop with Fast Cloud, working on refining her Kinetic Amplifier.

I just want to say that I really miss RC. In many ways, she’s the sister I never had. I love gaming with her and I really miss her Dragon Age game. It’s been great cheering her on to new successes, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that a small part of me really wishes she’d come back and game with us.

Name: Grace Elizabeth “Tens” McCall
Race: Human
Attributes: Agility d8, Smarts d12, Spirit d8, Strength d6, Vigor d8
Skills: Climbing d6, Fighting d4, Guts d4, Knowledge: Chemistry d6, Knowledge: Physics d6, Lockpicking d6, Notice d6, Persuasion d6+1, Repair d8, Shooting d6, Stealth d6, Streetwise d6+1, Taunt d4, Weird Science (Arcane) d10
Pace: 8, Parry: 6, Toughness: 6, Charisma: 1, Grit: 2
Languages: English, Latin, Mandarin, Navajo, Spanish
Hindrances: Curious, Heroic, Loyal, Trouble Magnet (Minor)
Edges:: Acrobat, Arcane Background (Weird Science), Fleet-Footed, Gadgeteer, Knack (Born on All Hallow’s Eve)
Arcane Powers: Bolt (Kinetic Bolt), Entangle (Kinetic Drain), Quickness (Kinetic Hyperdrive), Speed (Kinetic Boost)
Gear: Kinetic Amplifier d4 (Str+d6), Unarmed Strike d4 (Str), Colt Lightning d6 (2d6, 12/24/48), Backpack, Bedroll, Blanket, Boots, Canteen, Derby, Ghost Rock Detector, Gun Belt, Hammer, Horse, Lantern, Lockpicks, Mess Kit, Quick-Draw Holster, Rope (per 50′), Saddle, Saddlebags, Shirt/Blouse, work, Trousers/Skirt

Now, let’s look at our special guest star, Sister Mary Katherine. During the final showdown at Coffin Rock, Sister Mary gained the special knack of Ghoul Slayer. This knack allows her to deal +2 damage against the undead or creatures vulnerable to sunlight.

My wife remains awesome. It’s been great seeing her career really take off, doing things that I could never in a hundred years manage. But man, her schedule has just been murder on her free time (and by extension, some of mine). I’m really hoping that within the next year her schedule will even out and maybe she can start gaming with me again. I really miss her. But that just makes it all the more special when the Nun of Doom can join the table once more.

Name: Sister Mary Katherine
Race: Human
Attributes: Agility d8, Smarts d8, Spirit d12, Strength d6, Vigor d8
Skills: Climbing d4, Faith (Arcane) d10, Fighting d6, Guts d8+1, Healing d6+2, Intimidation d4, Knowledge: Occult d6, Notice d6, Persuasion d4+3, Riding d4, Shooting d8, Stealth d4, Survival d6, Tracking d4
Pace: 6, Parry: 5, Toughness: 6, Charisma: 3, Grit: 2
Languages: English, Latin, Spanish
Gear: Unarmed Strike d6 (Str), Auroraculat d8+1 (2d8+2, 60/120/240), Backpack, Bedroll, Bible, Blanket, (100x) Bullets, .45 Rifle, Canteen, Horse, Iron Skillet, Lantern, Mess Kit, Nun’s Habit, Rifle Boot, Rope (per 50′), Rosary Beads, Saddle
Hindrances: Enemy (Vampire’s Sire), Heroic, Lyin’ Eyes, Vow (Holy Orders)
Edges: Arcane Background (Miracles), Conviction, Healer, Marksman, Speed Load
Arcane Powers:
Boost/Lower Trait (Prayer), Deflection (Prayer), Healing (Lay on Hands), Inspiration (Song of Prayer), Quickness (Holy Speed), Stun (Light of Justice)

And now I’d like to introduce our two new characters (and players). First up is Cho Wei “Chuck” Fong, played by J2. A gifted martial artist, he doesn’t dress like most of his countrymen. Instead, he wears a hat and duster. And those two six-guns on his hip aren’t just for show. Think Jackie Chan in Shanghai Noon, only with more of a Clint Eastwood demeanor. In the past, he earned the boon of Unity of Focus. This allows him to cast all of his Chi Mastery powers with the Chi Focus skill. He’s the boon companion and bodyguard of Bertie, but is quickly becoming a valued member of the Posse.

I’m still getting a handle on J2. He’s a really nice guy, but so far he’s been pretty quiet at the table and when I’ve met him. I really like the guy, even if having two guys named J is really confusing (at the table we call him M). I’m hoping that with time he might open up a bit more. I do really like his character concept and he’s got a really solid grasp of the rules for a new player. It’ll be nice having another rules guy at the table. I just think that he’s still trying to get used to anything that’s not D&D.

Name: Cho Wei Fong
Race: Human
Attributes: Agility d10, Smarts d6, Spirit d8, Strength d8, Vigor d8
Skills: Chi Focus (Arcane) d8, Climbing d6, Fighting d10, Guts d8+1, Intimidation d4, Notice d6, Riding d6, Shooting d6, Stealth d6, Swimming d4, Throwing d6
Pace: 7, Parry: 7, Toughness: 6, Charisma: 1, Grit: 2
Languages: Chinese (Mandarin), English
Hindrances: Heroic, Loyal, The Cup Overlfows, Wanted (Minor)
Edges: Ambidextrous, Arcane Background (Chi Mastery), Improved Martial Arts, Martial Arts, Superior Kung Fun: Shaolin Temple, Superior Kung Fu: Shuai Chao, Two-Fisted, Unity of Focus
Arcane Powers: Boost/Lower Trait (Chi Focus), Deflection (Seize the Pearl of Death), Quickness (Chi Invocation), Warrior’s Gift (Master’s Insight)
Gear: Unarmed Strike d10 (Str), Colt Peacemaker (DA) d6 (2d6+1, 12/24/48), Colt Peacemaker (DA) d6 (2d6+1, 12/24/48), Knife, Bowie d10 (Str+d4+1), Backpack, Bedroll, Blanket, Boots, Canteen, Chaps, Duster, Horse, Iron Skillet, Mess Kit, Quick-Draw Holster, Quick-Draw Holster, Rope (per 50′), Saddle, Saddlebags, Shirt/Blouse, work, Stetson, Trousers/Skirt

Next up we have Elizabeth “Bertie” Vanderford, a young woman in a bit of a pickle, player by SY. Blessed with good looks, she found herself beset by suitors. And when one finally got approved, she did not care for him at all. And so she ran away and disguised herself as a northern dandy gentleman by the name of Bertie. Along the way, Bertie found an old Book of Hoyle and started diving the true secrets of the tome. By the time he met up with Chuck and then the Posse, Bertie was an accomplished Huckster and card player. Bertie has a soft spot for kids and loves to teach them new card games. Bertie has learned the power of Dove’s Blessing. This allows her to learn and use the Healing power, though she may not Deal with the Devil to use it.

SY is a joy at the table. She’s and J2 are a bit younger than the rest of us, but that’s just been great. I feel like the change in players has breathed new life into the group and the game. And I cannot deny that there are at least a few similarities between us (even if her work ethic puts mine to shame). She’s ten times the illustrator I’ll ever be, which is really exciting for me. I’m really hoping that eventually she might do a group portrait of the posse, but as a fellow freelancer, I realize that free time is never free.

All in all, I think that both SY and J2 were just incredible adds and have added a great new dynamic to the group. I think it also reinforces my feeling of incredible luck in gaming. Because, in all honesty, I’ve more or less stumbled into a really great group. The condition continues with these new players.

Name: Elizabeth “Bertie” Vanderford
Race: Human
Attributes: Agility d8, Smarts d10, Spirit d10, Strength d6, Vigor d6
Skills: Driving d4, Fighting d4, Gambling d8, Guts d8+1, Knowledge: Occult d6, Lockpicking d4, Notice d6, Persuasion d8+4, Riding d4, Shooting d6, Spellcasting (Arcane) d10, Streetwise d6+4
Pace: 6, Parry: 4, Toughness: 5, Charisma: 4, Grit: 3
Languages: English, French, Mandarin, Spanish
Hindrances: Heroic, Loyal, Quirk (Dandy), Wanted (Minor)
Edges: Arcane Background (Magic), Attractive, Card Sharp, Dealer’s Choice, Dove’s Blessing, High Roller, Improved High Roller, Level Headed, True Grit
Arcane Powers: Bolt (Sparkling Sparrows), Boost/Lower Trait (No Visible Effect), Healing (Dove’s Cooing), Invisibility (No Visible Effect), Mind Rider (Card Reading), Slumber (Nightingale Song)
Gear: Unarmed Strike d4 (Str), Derringer d6 (2d6, 5/10/20), Knife d4 (Str+d4), Backpack, Bedroll, Blanket, Canteen, Derby, Horse, Lockpicks, Mess Kit, Playing Cards, Playing Cards, Playing Cards, Playing Cards, Saddle, Saddlebags, Shoes, Startling Charm, Suit/Fancy Dress

And finally, we have the triumphant return of Rides-a-Buffalo, a literal Buffalo Soldier Shaman played by JC. Rides-a-Buffalo left the Union Army after seeing his taste of death, and fell in with some of the native tribes. It was there that he met Laughs-at-Darkness, who sensed the spark of the divine within him. Laughs-at-Darkness took on Rides-a-Buffalo, also known to the white men as Ezekiel Smith, As his apprentice. Now Rides-a-Buffalo is an accomplished Shaman, skilled at changing forms. He learned the knack of Skinshifting from Laughs-at-Darkness, and he is easily able to shift forms and stay in them longer (this boon changes the cost and duration of forms based on the rank of the animal and Zeke’s rank – the bigger the difference, the bigger the bonus).
It’s a joy to see JC back at the table with us. The guy runs a fantastic

Name: Ezekiel “Rides-a-Buffalo” Smith
Race: Human
Attributes: Agility d8, Smarts d8, Spirit d10, Strength d6, Vigor d8
Skills: Climbing d4, Fighting d8, Guts d8+1, Intimidation d4, Notice d8, Persuasion d4+2, Riding d4, Shooting d4, Stealth d6, Survival d8+2, Swimming d4, Throwing d6, Tracking d8+2, Tribal Medicine (Arcane) d10
Pace: 6, Parry: 6, Toughness: 6, Charisma: 2, Grit: 2
Languages: Cheyenne, English, Spanish
Hindrances: Heroic, Loyal, Old Ways Oath (Minor), Trouble Magnet (Major)
Edges: Beast Bond, Beast Master, Rapid Recharge, Skinshifter, Wilderness Man
Arcane Powers: Beast Friend (Animal Calls), Boost/Lower Trait (Shamanic Blessing), Healing (Spirit Oath), Shape Change (Wild Shape)
Gear: Unarmed Strike d8 (Str), Bow d4 (2d6, 12/24/48), Club, War d8 (Str+d6), Knife d8 (Str+d4), Tomahawk d8 (Str+d6), Tomahawk d8 (Str+d6), (20x) Arrow, Bedroll, Blanket, Bow and Quiver Case, Buckskin Shirt, Buckskin Shirt, Horse, Moccasins, Rope (per 50′), Saddle, Saddlebags, Tipi

And now, here’s a look at the rest of the old posse as Seasoned characters. Please bear with me as I wax a bit poetic about the changes in the characters for a bit. It’s been such a joy to see these characters really take shape in the world.

Juan Tomas Longknife has advanced both magically and socially. When the ghost miners ascended through his shooting iron, it gained now powers. It is now his Red Right Hand, and it has magical potency. It’s also able to shoot Ghost Bullets upon command, without JT needing to carve them first. These days, Juan Tomas is the groups biggest heavy hitter and the more or less undisputed leader. He’s the guy the rest of the posse looks to when things get sticky.
I know it’s a terrible thing, but if I had to pick a favorite character, I think that Juan Tomas is probably the one. It’s been an absolute joy to see my friend MJ having so much fun with this character. I feel like the guy was really due for a long-running, badass character. I’m happy he’s getting the chance.
Truth be told, I as a Marshal have begun to lean on Juan Tomas a bit. I’ve thrown some encounters at the posse that should have been deadly, but MJ has this incredible knack for rolling a really big series of raises on damage that can just take down terrible monsters with ease. Most of the time it’s super fun to see, but when one of my horrible monsters that should be a huge battle get destroyed without an action, it does sort of make me wince a bit.
A note on Juan Tomas. Through the course of play, both me and MJ have discovered that Coup Counter was a bad hindrance for JT. And so I let him swap it with Vengeful, which seems to be much more fitting.

Name: Juan Tomas Longknife
Race: Human
Attributes: Agility d10, Smarts d8, Spirit d8, Strength d6, Vigor d8
Skills: Fighting d6, Gambling d6, Guts d6+1, Hexslinging (Arcane) d8, Intimidation d6, Notice d6, Persuasion d6+3, Riding d6, Shooting d10, Stealth d4, Streetwise d6+3, Survival d6, Tracking d6
Pace: 6, Parry: 5, Toughness: 6, Charisma: 3, Grit: 2
Languages: English, Navajo, Spanish
Hindrances: Heroic, Loyal, Trouble Magnet (Major), Vengeful (Minor)
Edges: Arcane Background (Magic), Hip-Shooting, Marksman, Noble, Rich, Texas Ranger, The Seven Rune (Sacramento Surprise)
Arcane Powers: Aim (Bullseye), Deflection (Skin o’ the Teeth), Quickness (Fast as Lightning), Shootist (Rune Carved Bullets), Smite (Bushwhacker), Trinkets (Load ‘em Up!)
Gear: Colt Peacemaker (SA) d10 (2d6+1, 12/24/48), Unarmed Strike d6 (Str), Colt Revolving Rifle d10 (2d8, 24/48/96), Red Right Hand d10+1 (2d6+3, 12/24/48), Backpack, Bedroll, Blanket, Boots, (50x) Bullets, .45 Pistol, (50x) Bullets, .56 Rifle, Canteen, Chaps, Coup Stick, Duster, Fugitives from Justice in the Confederacy, Handcuffs, Horse, Lockpicks, Playing Cards, Quick-Draw Holster, Rifle Boot, Rope (per 50′), Saddle, Saddlebags, Shirt/Blouse, work, Stetson, Tobacco, smoking (pouch), Trousers/Skirt

And finally, we have T. Saint John. T. Saint John has advanced much like I expected: more Strength, more Vigor, more punching. The character is really dependable, employing big feats of strength and heroism like you’d expect. And with every advance, T. Saint John creeps closer and closer to my mythical image of Teddy Roosevelt. To the point that I now expe4ct T. Saint John to utter “Bully!” after ever punch.
JE continues to be a solid presence at the table. As one of the longest running members of this group, he’s turned out consistent performances. If only he’d stop. The. Puns. Seriously.
As the only character without an arcane background, T. Saint John has been learning various Martial Techniques. Spirit Falcon Strike lets him deal +2 damage to supernaturally evil creatures, and his fists count as magical weapons. And Rock Breaker lets him double his damage total against inanimate objects.

Name: T. Saint John
Race: Human
Attributes: Agility d8, Smarts d8, Spirit d6, Strength d12, Vigor d10
Skills: Climbing d4, Fighting d8, Guts d6+1, Healing d4, Investigation d8+2, Knowledge: Journalism d6, Notice d8, Persuasion d6, Riding d4, Shooting d4, Stealth d4, Streetwise d8+2, Throwing d6
Pace: 9, Parry: 6, Toughness: 8, Charisma: 0, Grit: 2
Languages: English, Latin, Spanish
Hindrances: Curious, Heroic, Loyal, Vow (Get story at all costs)
Edges: Ambidextrous, Boxer, Brawler, Brawny, Combat reflexes, Investigator, Two-Fisted
Marital Techniques: Falcon Spirit Strike, Rock Breaker

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 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.

Dec 062010

These days I’m preparing The Tomb of Horrors for my gaming group, and with it, I’m checking out a few old modules and books for inspiration or simply to convert to 3.5 and play with my gaming group. Over the course of my reading, I’ve realized one thing: unlike many of the various splatbooks or sourcebooks for other games or editions, these books make me wanna play.

If I pick up the D&d 3.5 corebook (or the 4E, or even the WFRP 2nd edition corebook to an extent), I see a great book. The rules are, in most cases, well explained, the artwork is great, and they provide a great foundation to many hours of fun… But there is nothing in there that makes me hyped for playing (small footnote. WFRP’s careers do make me wanna play, but it’s a minor thing in the book).

Meanwhile, I read The Enemy Within, Against the Giants, any of the “Volo’s guide to…”, or the descriptions of the planes in the 3.0 Manual of the Planes, with their exotic locales and the various plot hooks, and the first thing that comes to mind is “man, this is cool! I could make this story that…” or “it would be awesome to play this…”

In the end I’ve come to the conclusion that we strive to make great books, with an awesome presentation, that are completely coherent, but we often forget to play up the “why do you wanna play this?” angle, and that definitely hurts the final product a little.

And to close with stuff that makes me wanna game…

Wisdom of the Kings

 Posted by at 6:24 pm
Feb 182010

We´ve all seen this at one point or another. Our GM has this interesting, convoluted story that he has devised over the course of weeks, and once the group starts playing, it´s clear that there´s little they can do to stray from that path that the GM has set for them. The players, if they´re good, notice this, but decide to cooperate, for the good of the game. After all, it keeps the story going. However, things don´t change, and session through session, players are bending over backwards to do what´s sensible from a normal human´s point of view, instead of what any reasonable powergamer would do. They cooperate with the NPC´s, even if they know they´re gonna get betrayed. They happily get into an ambush because their characters still trust those NPC´s, although all the players know it´s gonna be a possibly lethal ambush. You know the drill.

But what happens when the players decide that it´s too much? This can bring a rebellion in the table, and send the game down the trash quickly, specially if the GM cannot react fast enough, or the players end up being driven into a dead-end. However, should things reach this state, the players will already be touchy when it comes to their lack of freedom, and even if the game manages to get back on track, it will be very hard to get them to cooperate with the GM again at all.

In short: give your players more freedom, even if that means changing your carefully designed plan. They will be happier for it.

 Posted by at 7:03 pm
Sep 302009

“We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”

~Martin Luther King, Jr.

I always find my best inspirations for blog posts after I have played the worst RPG scenes.

This is a problem that plagues online roleplayoing, but I think it also ventures heavily into tabletop gaming across all genres of games – how do you make your game work for your group as a whole?

Lets go backwards on this a bit and look at the most basic question: why should you run for every player you have?  I swear it seems such a simple, stupid question but time and time again groups form where the ST/DM/GM gathers a big group of players and then proceeds to lead only for his or her best friends leaving the other players feeling useless.  The why is tied inextricably in the basic goal of roleplaying: fun.  Very few players find it fun to ride along on the coattails of others, and usually they are the sort of players who gain more fun by spectating rather than playing anyways.  Most players find it fun to affect the game and in return be rewarded for their actions.  Even in a game where there is a strict rank whether this is military or nobility – no one like to have thier options in a RPG limited solely to what someone else tells them to do.  We play RPGs to make choices and see how those choices affect the outcome.  No matter whether this is how does your combat strategy stack up against the DM’s baddies to how does your social manipulation scheme affect the plots of the ST’s villains.  So if you plot adventures that only appeal to a portion of your players – or worse can only be solved by a portion of your players the neglected players will start to resent the game and get very bored very quickly.

That is not to say that personal storylines or highlighting a character is a bad thing – as long as it is something that is shared equally among the playerbase.  The storyline that deals with a paladin fulfilling an oath to his order one session, afterward the fighter making a drunken bet and dragging his party into a monster-hunt; and then a gang of old enemies catching up with the rogue the next is cool.  The game where each and every problem is only solvable by some obscure spell your wizard possess while the rest of your party is getting mutilated and and doing zero damage is fundamentally broken.  Honestly – if you are running a tabletop game and you decide that you enjoy running for only a portion of your players and therefore favor them suck it up and either A. split the group or B. find ways to enjoy and/or run for your other players.

And if you’re running an online chat game, and you favor your friends exclusively you should probably admit that you’re not cut out to be a good GM and step down.  Period, end of story.

So now that the problem is defined, how do you kep your game running smoothly?  First – live by this rule: interested players make a more interesting game for all involved.  It takes some work, but in my opinion finding out what trips your players triggers is well worth the effort because once they are interested they will be giving both feedback and energy – and oftentimes story ideas through their play.

2. Give them what they want.  Some DMs I know specifically put something in every adventure for every character, some are more loose about it and just give open ended situations that are well suited for a variety of players – however you care to do it, make sure there are plenty of opportunities for everybody to think up solutions and act upon them.  This leads directly into …

3. Think before saying ‘No.’  Sometimes we trust our friends but don’t trust the new guy – so we’ll buy the wildly creative plan our best bud throws out but immediately shoot down the solution presented by the new player.  You know what?  If you trusted them enough to let them in your group give them a chance.  If everything goes to hell, kindly stop the session and either teach them the game or don’t invite them next time – on the flip side if they are wildly creative and make it work everyone might just be sold on the story and be thrilled with it.  I find too many GMs say ‘no’ too often and yet when you say yes not only do players feel like they are empowered in the game but they have more fun and are encouraged to be more creative.

4. If you have a railroader, stop them – even if (or especially if) it is you.  Some people feel that everything needs to go their way.  Some players like to order everyone else around and some GMs will force players into their tightly preplanned storyline.  But control isn’t fun.  No one likes playing out orders – people go to work to do what they are told.  They roleplay to have fun and explore the boundaries of their creativity.   So if you have a player who likes controlling everyone else, tell them to stop – trust me, even if the others aren’t complaining they will thank you.  And if it is you as a GM controlling them too strictly, start coming up with open-ended problems for them to solve.  This has the added benefit of taking stress off your shoulders.

5. If you are running a story based game, find out about all the PCs backgrounds and bring them into play.  If you are running a strategy or combat based game, find out each of the player’s tactical strengths/weaknesses and bring them into play.  Challenging each person individually or bringing up secrets of character’s pasts is a good way to get that player involved and tied to the other players in the game.

6. Personal SL are great.  Personal SLs that affect your entire group but can only be solved by one PC suck.  No one wants to stack dice and twiddle thier thumbs while waiting for one PC to finish defeating the big bad that only he or she can defeat.  Either run personal SLs on the side or make them so every player can get involved.

If all else fails, admit your strengths and weaknesses as a GM and run for only your close friends and let someone else run for everyone.  Because the game is fun, but sitting around watching someone else have fun isn’t.

Sep 192009

All right, I don’t drop into personal mode here very often, but this one really gets to me. A fine gentleman had a very piece of artwork stolen at Dragon*Con.  As an artist I find this utterly reprehensible and beyond contempt.  I want to see this bastard caught and this artworked returned to the artist.

So, took a look at the piece again. If you see someone wearing this, report it to the artist.  I’m personally offering free print design work to anyone who helps track this piece of artwork down.  Have that RPG sitting around you want to get produced?  I’ll do it free of charge at the professional level.  If that doesn’t float your boat, I’ll do your entire campaign map instead.

I want this bastard found and I want this artist to get his work back.  As an artist myself I can find nothing lower than stealing the work of an artist.  In fact, mere words cannot describe my anger at this.  Keep an eye out – this kind of shit can’t go unanswered.

Sep 042009

After lots of anticipation and wait, I finally received my preordered copy of Space Hulk´s rerelease. Most of out readers should know what Space Hulk is, but for those who might not know, we´ll travel 20 years back in time.

Back in 1989, Games Workshop hadn´t turned into the “evil miniatures empire” gamers tend to know they company as, and it still would publish boardgames that people still remember fondly. Heroquest, published together with Milton Bradley, was probably the most famous of them all. However, despite of that popularity, there is one game that most gamers remember for its apparently simplicity, but high tactical complexity, tension, and sheer fun. Space Hulk.

Space Hulk pitted a small squad of five Space Marine Terminators against a host of deadly Genestealer aliens. The game itself involved lots of tactical decisions in a very short expanse of time, since the marine player had a limited timer, and the odds were heavily stacked against him.

To celebrate the 20th anniversary of its release, Games Workshop has put together a limited rerelease edition of Space Hulk… And boy, did they deliver.

It is hard to describe the sheer impressiveness of this package. Even describing all the bits and bobs inside it doesn´t do it justice. However, to give you a rough idea of it, I´ll mention the stuff that impressed me the most (and refer you to check out Games Workshop´s webpage for images of the actual thing).

For starters, the one thing that you notice is that there are a few sheets of cardboard, packaged together inside a plastic bag. Those cardboard sheets hold the various tiles for the game, the doors and bulkheads, and the counters for the game. Every tile is made of very thick cardboard (about 3 mm. thick, which is approximately twice as much as they were in the original game), and they come out nicely of the punched sheets. They´ve also included 4 small plastic bags to keep the counters in, which is a very nice touch, in my opinion.

The second thing you notice is two very beautifully illustrated booklets, the rulebook (which sports a terminator´s head on its cover) and the mission book (which has a genestealer´s head. Lovely detail, isn´t it?). The rules are decently explained, and they mostly mirror 1st edition´s rules, with a couple of minor touches (the addition of the broodlord, and a couple of balance changes and clarifications, mostly). The game also includes most of the new stuff in the Deathwing and Genestealer expansions, only leaving out stuff that´s ended up mostly outdated due to fluff reasons, like the genestealer magi.

Finally, and I suppose this is Space Hulk´s most impressive part, you get to the miniatures. Oh boy… I´ll let a couple of images speak for themselves.

A genestealer:

A Space Marine Terminator:

Another Space Marine:

That should give a good indication of the quality of the stuff they´ve put in there.

So, is the game only a pretty display feature? No, not at all. The game plays just as well as it did 20 years ago (or maybe even better), and even though I still am not sure one or two things aren´t errata (the storm shield, in particular, seems ridiculously powerful, for example, and the rules for it are a tad awkward), the marine player keeps having that oppresive sense when the genestealers are coming close and time is running short, as well as the feeling of achievement when you get to finish mission nº 1, suicide mission (yes, that´s the actual name of it, and I have to say that it´s far harder to beat than some of the ones that come afterwards in the campaign).

Finally, for those that love to critizise Games Workshop, I have one thing to say. In this case, GW are offering a very high quality product for a hefty sum (78 euros for the box in spain, nearly $100 US), but the game is well worth it (might as well point out that 5 terminators cost $50, right now, and the box includes 10, plus 22 genestealers, and a whole bunch of other stuff). In fact, the box´s content is so massive that once you open it, there´s no real way to put everything back in it. Pandora´s box, anyone? 😉

 Posted by at 5:50 pm
Aug 042009

Super Mario STing
(or why White Wolf STs should go read a DMG)

“Thank you, Mario,
But our princess is in another castle…”

~Super Mario Brothers, NES

I have a confession to make: I play on online White Wolf chats.

As I am a fan of the Old World of Darkness, it’s tough to find players anymore.  Online chats were a natural interest as you could find players, even if physically they were hundreds, if not thousands of miles away.  And while I have found some terrific players and stories on those chats, I have also suffered through some of the worst games of my life online.  Recently I have been hit in the face with something that has become a massive pet peeve, something I call the ‘Super Mario Syndrome.’

How does that work in roleplaying?  Easy.  The ST schedules a scene (or a game session if you’re playing tabletop) and everyone gets together to solve problem A or seek out Badguy X.  And the PCs sally forth to the someplace (hideout 1) where they have a clue that Badguy X will be, encountering a big group of his goons or traps or what have you.  The PCs fight a valiant and (because it’s old White Wolf) exceedingly long battle with the goons, only to find that Badguy X is not there and they cannot get much useful information from the defeated goons.  Only “Sorry, PCs but the Badguy is in another hideout.”  So the session ends, you may or may not get XP, and you schedule to play again.  Next time you go to hideout 2, to find more of Badguy X’s goons, have another long fight, and find out once again that ‘Oh yeah, Badguy X is in another hideout…” and so on.

I can stomach the idea of having to defeat multiple villains to collect multiple MacGuffins (to continue the classic video game references: The Zelda Plotline) as long as every chunk of the game offers a tangible reward.  It is too easy to forget the ‘reward’ part of a poorly thought out, ongoing storyline.  This problem is complicated tenfold in White Wolf style games because the game does not offer inherent rewards for combat, unlike Dungeons and Dragons.  You might get a few XP, which in turn you can use to raise your physical stats, and fight more things.  But unless your players are completely content with fighting endless hoardes of baddies, rinse, repeat the game quickly becomes tiresome if they can never accomplish story goals.

I have a negative gut reaction against running a scene with no purpose.  Both as a player and as an ST I dislike the convention of fighting for no reason, or questing without reward.  Some STs use this to build up tension or to make the players ‘work’ for something in order to earn it, but I find all too often that it only builds frustration in the players and stretches out a watery plotline for longer than it is worth.  Having been victim of the Super Mario Syndrome in several games, in my experience it always ends the same way: sooner or later the players get frustrated without getting anywhere.  They get up the gumption, complain to the ST, and the ST in return gets angry because he or she feels like their hard work STing isn’t being appreciated.  In rare cases I have seen STs learn from their mistakes and reform their plots – but more often I see an ST go ‘well, if you want and ending, then fine!  I’ll end it!’ and they make up a sudden and unsatisfying ending to the plot.  Players and ST go home unhappy and the game starts to fall apart, which just isn’t fun in any sense of the word.

So, let’s dissect the possible reasons for the Super Mario Syndrome:

1.    The storyteller seeks to build tension.
Tension is an integral part of a dramatic plot.  However tension at the expense of the group’s enjoyment is a waste.  I find it far better to build tension with scene settings, good descriptions, and by making the villains connected to the PCs in some way.  By giving them a reason to give a rat’s ass about a villain (whether that means they have some positive connection to them or they have a deep and personal hatred of them) your players create tension for you through their PCs own personal struggles.

2.    The Storyteller seeks to challenge the players.
Oftentimes as an ST I worry about ‘is this challenge difficult enough for my players?’  Unlike 3.X DnD and beyond there are no ‘challenge levels’ in White Wolf.  There are no clear guidelines as to when something is challenging enough, too easy or too hard.  So, in order to get a proper sense of challenge, some STs like to drag things out to make sure the game is properly difficult.  But it is all too easy to drag things out too long.

My suggestion?  Make individual encounters more difficult.  Swallow your fear of killing your PCs and make each scene potentially deadly, and if they succeed, “Let it Ride.”  That’s a term pulled directly from Burning Wheel – which I highly suggest any ST should go pick up because reading the concepts in that system is well worth the $25 even if you never play it.  Anyways, let it ride is a mechanic that says you cannot call for re-rolls and you cannot reneg on success or failure.  If the PCs succeed on a roll (or working from there, succeed in a task) they succeed.  You cannot try to go back on your word and suddenly make the task again more difficult.  If need be pre-define the conditions for success and let the players know them.  If they succeed, they succeed and you move on.  And honestly, the game isn’t about the ST versus the PCs.  The ST doesn’t ever need to ‘win.’  The PCs do because the players play the game for success.  So if they succeed, let them win.  There is nothing wrong with that.

3.    The Storyteller wants to ‘hang on’ to a great recurring villain
Oh, the curse of the awesome NPC.  You created them in a burst of inspiration and now you can’t let them go.  The PCs love them – or at least you thought they did.  But now they can never reach their goals because he is standing in the way.  You can deal with this in a few different ways, and one of the simplest and best is sit down and talk to your players OOC.  Do they love the recurring villain as much as you do?  If the answer is yes, they all love to continually hate him, then structure your game with a smattering of other, defeatable villains and you know you will always have your ‘Lex Luthor’ around to show back up.  Or perhaps the PCs could confront their favorite recurring villain and cause him or her to convert to being a good guy.

The hardest part to this is when you find that no, in fact your players don’t share the same love of a particular NPC that you do.  Then there is really only one thing to do, and that is to go back to the above point, suck it up and let them have the chance of defeating him.   And if they do, you let the NPC go.  You’re an ST.  You should be able to create an equally awesome villain for the next plot – or save this one and reuse him in a different game with different players.

4.    The Storyteller hasn’t planned his or her story to the end.
This is the monster that destroys games: lack of follow-through on the part of the ST.  Sometimes it manifests in a wandering lack of plot while the ST searches for inspiration on how to draw it all into a conclusion and sometimes it manifests in the ST being wholly unable to tie all of his or her complex threads together.  Super Mario tends to show up while the ST is trying to stall for time.  Now, I do not believe that planning a game should feel like a chore, but that a good ST should put a reasonable amount of time and effort into planning.  Many good STs enjoy that planning.  But at base, your game needs a plan for what the problem is, what the resolution will be and what the reward for success is.  How the players get from problem to resolution is up to them and it can comprise the bulk of your game, but the ST needs to know what the eventual conclusion is.  If the game is long-term and/or epic there needs to be clear ‘chapters’ of play, allowing minor successes to add up to a final success in the overarching goal.

The difficulty with flexible story-based games is that you need to start with an interesting story.  Part of the job of the ST is to decide how long a planned story (or game) will last.  Some stories are far better suited for short campaigns, while others more able to sustain long-term play; and a smart ST can separate the two.  If you have a short-term story run it as a one-shot or a few-shot and don’t try to drag it out past its prime.  But most importantly: figure out what plot you are running before everyone sits down to play.  Not a railroad, but a general idea that “The PCs want X.  When they get X, they will get Y reward” or something that gives a sense of conclusion to the basic structure.

Getting over the roadblocks allows the players to feel like they are a contributing part of the game and that their actions have meaning because they advance the story somewhere else.  No one wants to play a game where they feel like they are at the whims of an ST.  If we wanted that we’d all go get cubicle jobs and get pushed around by our bosses all day and call it ‘fun.’  An ST needs to step back and let his or her players affect the game or story with their actions as much as the ST shapes them.

Then Super Mario will be the one in another castle.