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Mail Call!

Sorcerer's Skull - Fri, 08/30/2019 - 12:24
I got several gaming related packages this week. The biggest was probably the chairs I have been waiting on for a nearly a year from Table of Ultimate Gaming to go with our sweet gaming table. The other two were the first in the series of Dungeons & Dragons cartoon character statues, Shelia the Thief:


The other was the physical copy of Aquelarre (which I had forgotten I had gotten from the Kickstarter!)


Great stuff!

Philippe Druillet Is a Genius

The Viridian Scroll - Thu, 08/29/2019 - 19:35
TLDR: Druillet's Lone Sloan is all about the drawings, and the drawings are INCREDIBLE.

This isn't really RPG related, and yet it seems like something I want to talk about in this space.





Let me talk about the story first. An interstellar rogue is approached by some red priests to rip off the emperor of a pleasure planet. It gets messy. Despite all the high action, the story is a bit plodding at times, but by the end it all kind of comes together in something pretty cool. And, honestly, it read like an RPG session!





The drawings have that kind of greebly-vastness that only certain artists can pull off. Every panel is packed with squiggly details that suggest as much as delineate, but are nonetheless exact in their own way. Not just noise in the same way that the best punk music or stoner rock isn't just noise.





The panel layouts are incredible. They have a kaleidoscopic symmetry that reminds me of the work of Joseph Stella.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Start Your Digging

Torchbearer RPG - Thu, 08/29/2019 - 13:00
Caving by Michael Prescott

Hello friends!

Recently, Luke and I have been discussing the Dungeoneer skill. The skill is great, but our feeling is that we’ve overburdened it. Right now it governs both climbing and trap disarming—two things adventurers are likely to get up to a lot in dungeons.

At the same time, there’s one thing that gets short-shrift in Torchbearer’s skills: digging. It’s covered by the Laborer skill, but there’s not much in the way of diversity of obstacles. Our players are probably unusual in that they absolutely adore digging—a hold-over from our Burning THAC0 days when we had a Burning Wheel dungeon delving campaign. In those days, there was nothing that could earn you MVP faster than coming up with a clever way to use the Ditch Digging skill (in our early, impoverished days we once scraped together enough cash to cover a lifestyle maintenance test by retrenching latrines…). The dwarf, with his magical Excavation skill, was like unto a god.

This is all a roundabout way of saying that we’re toying with adding a new skill to Torchbearer: Sapper.

Sapper

Life underground has its own rules. Sapper are experts in the unpredictable dynamics of digging and defending in the darkness below.

Sappers dig tunnels, collapse them and set traps for the unwary.
Beginner’s Luck: Will
Help: Alchemist, Laborer
Supplies: Sulphur, lumber, grease

Tunneling Factors Tunnel Type+Length+MaterialCrawlway (1)Short (1)Earth (0)Shaft (2)Long (2)Clay (1)Tunnel (3)
Stone (2)

Sand (3) Tunnel Traps Factors Setting Trap TypeDisarming TrapsPit (1) + Material factorsTripwire and open pit (1)Tripwire alarm (2)False floor (2)Deadfall (3)Pressure plate (3)Spear or crossbow mechanism (4)Complex and multipart mechanisms (4)Gas and smoke mechanisms (5)Explosives (5)Explosives (6)Sigils or runes (6)

What do you think? I know there’s been a fair bit of conversation about disarming traps on the forums and the Mordite Press blog, but do your players ever set traps? Do they tunnel? Let’s talk about it!

Start your digging.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Combat as (Blood) Sport

Sorcerer's Skull - Thu, 08/29/2019 - 11:00

A common reframe in the old school landscape is "Combat as War vs. Combat as Sport," often used to negatively contrast elements of 5e and particularly 4e concerned with encounter balance an "the encounter" as a fundamental unit of game action in general with the old school. Without getting into the merits of how this argument is typically framed, I think that even if we accept this as true, there is a way to lean into those elements of modern D&D and come out with something cool. Instead dungeoncrawling for treasure (mainly), maybe the dungeon environment could be the battleground of a big tournament.

X-Crawl deals with some of this territory, I guess, but from what I read of it, it is set in the modern day, and seems very much concerned with the celebrity aspect of things, bringing in a lot of professional athlete cliches. All well and good, but I'm more interested in something more like Dragonball Z. The fighters are in it often for the personal betterment--a personal betterment that is practically apotheosis, which dovetails nicely with D&D advancement. What if the gods or Immortals or whatever design the dungeons as tournament grounds, and foundries to forge new Immortals to join there ranks?

In this context, the lack of XP for gold makes perfect sense. Also, "levels" of dungeons are likes brackets of a tournament. In order to give a good spectacle, you don't want scrubs advancing to take on the contenders too soon. Mainly playing this sort of setting would just mean thinking about the game differently. The only change might be that there would be fewer nameless rabbles or humanoid tribes with young and the like. Everybody in the dungeon is playing the game.

The Evolution of D&D in a Nutshell

The Viridian Scroll - Wed, 08/28/2019 - 16:57
Click to embiggen.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Wednesday Comics: House of X/Powers of X

Sorcerer's Skull - Wed, 08/28/2019 - 11:00

Jonathan Hickman has a penchant for "big idea" comics, often with an epic scale and science fictional overtones. All of those things I like, but for me there is a lack of focus on character, and perhaps a Kubrickan coolness that has made it difficult for me to love his Avengers or Fantastic Four runs. Maybe with the X-men, he's finally won me over.

House of X and Powers of X (actually pronounced powers of 10, a reference to its logarithmically remote future stories) tell of an interlocking tale of the world's mutants under Xavier embarking on a radical plan to save the future from....well, yet another mutant-related dystopia, then one takes "Days of Future Past" to a transhuman extreme, with the Nimrod controlled Man-Machine Empire facing off against the surviving mutants under Apocalypse.

I'm not sure how Hickman will bring this all to a satisfying close. It feels so much like an ender, its hard to see how the inevitable return to some sort of superhero status quo won't seem like something of a let down, maybe even a cheat.

So far, though, it's a fun ride.

Yokai Goons

The Viridian Scroll - Tue, 08/27/2019 - 16:20
TLDR: It's hard to pick a favorite Tunnel Goons hack, but this might be mine: a two-page ghost detective game set in the Meiji Restoration period of Japan (follows the Edo period). 

Yokai Hunter. In format this free game is two tri-folds: one for the player(s), referred to as the "Hunter," and one for the "Grand Master."

Front of the Hunter's Book: woodcut by hokusai, 1834.
Let's start with the latter, the GM tri-fold. It contains a summary of 10 different types of Yokai (supernatural creatures); 2d8 (15 total) missions; a summary of the historical period; further information on how to create Yokai, hunters, and NPCs; and cogent advice on running the game, with questions about the setting the group can/should explore.

The Hunter tri-fold contains a character sheet; d20 table of names, ages, and occupations; an equipment list; and the core rules. I have already talked about Tunnel Goons in previous posts. Yokai Hunter differs quite a bit from the original game, taking Nate Treme's invention and making the system into something with the right bells and whistles for a period ghost hunting thing. Here are some of the highlights.


  • Sentence-based character concept: "I'm a [trait][occupation] who [something from your past] and seeks [a goal]. E.g. "I'm Hachiro a nervous smuggler who is hunted by a former patron and seeks anonymity." (Hunters where ritual masks when they hunt so I imagine my character "hiding" in this role, drawing on his family's knowledge of ghost hunting. His dad wanted him to go into the family business, as it were, but Hachiro turned to smuggling to get rich quick – and because ghosts scare the bejeebus out of him.)
  • Path-based stats: Courage, Self-Control, and Wisdom. These are somewhat self-explanatory, but they are used in interesting ways. The system describes them as follows: when you roll dice "the GM will indicate which path you should follow: Courage (for actions that involve impetuosity or anger), Self-control (for actions in which it is necessary to remain calm and control one's impulses), or Wisdom (for actions that require certain knowledge or prudent and thoughtful behavior)."
  • Special Equipment. When you acquire an item you test Wisdom and, if you pass, the item grants a +1 bonus, situationally. This is a really interesting way to codify magic items into a system in an unexpected and fun way.
  • Resolution gradation. Not sure what else to call this. The author Chema González (aka Punkpadour) has essentially worked PbtA resolution categories into Tunnel Goons. 10+ you succeed. 9 = you succeed, but suffer a consequence. 8 or less you fail and the situation escalates.
  • Advantage/disadvantage. And Chema throws in this mechanic, which has become really popular in designs since the introduction of D&D 5e. The hunter rolls an extra d6 and discards one – highest if disadvantaged, lowest if advantaged.
  • Cursed die. And Chema adds a cursed die that starts at a d8. Basically you roll it "when you want to bet your very soul" in an action. You can't roll it while advantaged. The die, however, works like advantage – you drop the lowest one in your pool which contains 2d6 and the cursed die. If the result of the cursed die (whether you succeed or fail) is higher than your current Curse Resistance you attract bad luck and lose a point from your Curse Resistance tracker. I'm not going to get any further into this mechanic. You can read it for yourself, but you basically have a pool that shrinks as you become more cursed and is replenished only through ritual cleansing at a holy site (at a cost). And the cursed die changes sizes based on your points. It's cool.

So, what's not to like. Well, I do have a small reservation about two things: 1) having both + and advantage mechanics in the same system and 2) having difficulties that exceed 10 when 10 is a success. (What does it mean if you get an 11, but the difficulty is a 12? Did you get a mixed success, as in a 9?) But beyond that – and I don't really know if any of this is a problem without playing the game – there is nothing to not like. Which is to say, everything about this game just sings to me. It looks fantastic. 
BTW, the art, font-choices, and design sensibility are all wonderful as well. The character sheet is really attractive and makes the curse mechanic much easier to grok. 

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Solo Play: Eternal Caverns of Urk Part 1

The Viridian Scroll - Sun, 08/25/2019 - 20:30
The mad prophets have sentenced me to walk the Eternal Caverns of Urk until I receive a vision from the First God. I fear I will not return, and if I do I may be no longer sane.

[This is a solo play narrative, making use of Nate Treme's Eternal Caverns of Urk zine. My character is Kesh the Domite. HP 10, Brute 0, Skulker 1, Erudite 2. Items: mirror, flask, cloak uneven gray. I tried to stay in first person, but probably messed up some.]

Beneath a merciless noon sun I stare into the dark, cool void of the cavern's mouth. The rock in this region is chalky, formed into great boulders and plates of rainbow hues. Black moss coats the entrance. I remind myself that I have been commanded to enter, but my feet are unwilling for the moment. I check the meager "gifts" I was given when parting from the prophets, the only things I was allowed to bring: a flask of clear liquid (water?), a small mirror, and the strange cloak of striated gray that they insisted I wear despite the heat.

I step inside. The air is cold and mildewy. I will soon be grateful for the cloak I think. And the use of the water seems obvious enough, unless they have given me poison, or more likely some form of dream nectar. What of the mirror? Of what possible use could that be?

I walk for some hours, leaving the light behind me. Moving in total blackness by the touch of my fingers on the wall I begin to think I can see floating lights. At first I am convinced they are random flailing of my optic nerves, but they resolve into softly glowing eyeballs the size of beer barrels.

At first I am too terrified to move, but they keep their distance. Watching. One of them bounces and gyrates in a crazy motion, never breaking its steady gaze upon me. I walk forward, but this seems to displease them and they bar my way. Another takes up the crazy looping antics of its peer, but with a sinuous grace in place of the frenetic hopping of the former. When it stops I start to walk forward again, but quickly see them draw together. So I imitate their ritualistic dancing with some moves of my own. Katas I learned from my youth. Concentrating on my breathing and execution to calm my fears, I go through the 39 stations of the most complicated routine I know.

[This is the first roll I made other than generating random stuff. Turns out these giant eyes were into dance battles. I got by with a 10, including a +1 from Skulker.]

The eyes glisten around me. Then they all weave and bob excitedly, looking at each other as much as me. And for a miracle they arrange themselves in a broken line ahead of me, softly lighting my way.

And I go forward.

The cavern is wide here. Filled with strange yellow fungi of many hard-edged facets. Their geometry seems something more than random and I contemplate them for some time. The air here has grown warm and humid. And glowing drops of water fall form the ceiling in a florescent rain. Parched, and unwilling to drink from my flask, trusting this unnatural water over the unknown liquid in the gifted flask, I point my face toward the cavern ceiling and drink.

My heart freezes as I see a flabby mantis clinging to the ceiling. Inverted over me and frozen in with it's thorny forelimbs reaching toward me. Had I not looked up ... I shudder to think.

I tuck and roll forward into the yellow "trees" as the mantis springs forward and down. [Roll+Skulker, Success - barely] He misses, but quickly recovers and scuttles across the ceiling, hunting me. The cuboid blooms of the trees are between us, giving me cover. The mantis stops, seemingly befuddled, and stares in my direction with that strange pinched face. Suddenly there is a small voice ...

In my head! "Come out little one. Show yourself to me. I am no threat to one such as you. We will be friends."





It's a soothing voice, but something tells me not to trust it. [Roll+Erudite, Success - barely]. I know better than to come out, but I find myself unable to move. I call out loudly. "Help!"

For some minutes the voice keeps trying to coax me from my spot. I bite my cheeks and pinch myself to keep it from soothing me into feeding myself to this psychic monster. After an interminable time, I hear soft, thumping footsteps. Then a loud crack and the mantis drops, almost on top of me, stone dead.

"I say. Come out of there young fellow. You can't go messing around with these Prizing Mantises you know. Dangerous stuff. Luckily I was returning from my hunt and heard your call. Come with me and we'll get you a stiff drink. I expect you could use one!"

I hear the fruity, mellow voice of this rescuer long before I see him. It's a rather nice voice and I stand up, revealing my location. "Thank the prophets that ... Oh, hi there."

I went a bit speechless at this point. Before me is an 8' tall fellow covered in pink fur. He is extremely round and a bit bear-ish, but with two, short horns curving over his fuzzy dome. Despite his fearsome size, he somehow seems a bit comical to me, standing there in a fussily-stitched vest of green and holding the smoking barrel of some metal staff, but something tells me not to laugh. Bad manners I think – but it's more than that. I sense a vague danger. "Thank you for the rescue. And yes, I could use something to drink. How far is it to your home?"

He informs me that he and his people are camped just a few caverns further in. And that they would be welcome of some outside news. So I walk along with him, skipping to keep up at times. His gate is awkward but covers a lot of ground. As we walk, he prattles on endlessly about the flora and fauna of the caverns. As if educating me.

In fact he is telling me things I had no way of knowing ere now, but somehow it rubs me the wrong way. Like he is some pompous professor trying to fill my head with useless facts that he will test me on later. I try to listen, but I spend more time sizing him up than absorbing his words.

When we reach our destination, I am shocked at the level of comfort represented by something so hastily called a camp. Slender lightweight rods support little gaily colored cabins of silk. There is a small fire, hardly needed for warmth here, but the flames are licking at pot of something that smells incredible! A spicy stew of some kind that promises to be both hearty and energizing.

[Took a break here for tonight. I think I'm in trouble as these fellows are into taxidermy.]
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Between Planar Stations

Sorcerer's Skull - Sun, 08/25/2019 - 14:00

It doesn't have a name. Not really. This is intentional; names are power, after all, and power that can be used against you. When whoever instantiated the original version of the city did so, they fixed and compressed its noumenal building blocks into a potent glyph, a sigil. And that is what its inhabitants and its visitors from myriad plane-aware worlds have called it every since.

Only rubes get duped by maps hawked in Sigil markets or the orreries venerated by mundy cargo cults, the city is not at the center of anything physical or even metaphysical. It's just that it embodies the concept of nexus, and so it's the most stable router or gateway for astral bodies shooting through the howling conceptual metric.  From Sigil, you can get to anywhere, whether you should or not.

A lot of travelers get to Sigil and never leave. Some, the trafficked, press-ganged, fearful, or injured, have no choice. Others stay out of business interest, boredom, inertia or laziness. Why endure the vicissitudes of travel when all the worlds will come to you, eventually?

Solo Play: Tunnel Goons & Dungeon Builder

The Viridian Scroll - Sun, 08/25/2019 - 02:37
5 minute solo play on a work break using James Hron's Dungeon Builder, which is tricky to use but a very cool format. For rules I used Nate Treme's Tunnel Goons.

Dungeon BuilderI've described Tunnel Goons in a previous entry. Dungeon Builder is an idea generator. You have a two-level map with dungeon rooms. In each rooms is a series of three single-digit numbers, e.g. 211 or 332. Sometimes you see 2--. In the pamphlet is a number of tables with three columns of words each. The numbers in the rooms reference which table to roll on and the position of the number says which column. So 211 means roll for a word in the first column of table 2, then roll on table 1 for a word in the second column and one from the third column of the same table. 2-- means roll once and read all three words straight across, using table 2. Clever, huh?

Dive 1My Goons character is Kravdraa (aardvark backwards): HP 10, Brute 0, Skulker 1, Erudite 2. Carrying: dagger, pizza, midnight blue robe

Underlined stuff was generated randomly.

Kravdraa enters The Grisly Halls of Hell. Snooping around he found a loose stone and pried it free. Upon doing so, however, a poison viper jumped out and bit him (DC 5, rolled a 2, 2 damage, HP 08). Behind the stone was a spellbook.

Taking the left hand door from there, Kravdraa found himself in a courtyard with a strange tree. It's sappy red bark (bloodbark) made Kravdraa uneasy, but just as he decided not to go further into the room, the tree reached for him with it's suddenly animate, leafless branches (vampire, unstable)! Kravdraa scurried this way and that but was trapped. (DC 12, rolled a 4, HP now 0).

The tree hugged K to its bark and slowly drank his blood over several days like a delicious milkshake and converted him into a sapling slave.

Dive 2Oops. Maybe I had better add some reaction rolls. Take two.

Tabmow: HP 10, Brute 1, Skulker 1, Erudite 1. Carrying: mace, leather jack, torch.

Revisits the Grisly Halls of Hell! (I didn't re-roll the name.) In the first room is a sneaky outlaw with a bow was hiding. Tabmow failed to see him, but the outlaw turned out to be friendly. (Reaction roll.) He was scared of this place and decided to team up with Tabmow.

They go right, down a short hall and enter a room in which a unicorn is being overshadowed by a spooky illusion! Tabmow suspects it is an illusion and tries to scatter it with his will but fails. The spooky illusion reaches for the outlaw and the outlaw's heart freezes in his chest, instantly killing him. This makes Tabmow mad and a fight ensues in which Tabmow drives off the illusion but takes damage (HP now 8).

Tabmow sets the unicorn free and heads toward the entrance with the beautiful beast following (reaction 8), but by a different door. This was unfortunate as they ran into a nightmarish "hollow" wizard. The wizard was contemplating reality and didn't become immediately aggressive, but he did tell them to "Turn back!" -- and they did, because this guy looked tough. (He was.)

Going back the way they came however, they were blocked by a set of precious undead teeth – floating fangs of pure gold – chattering madly at them as they danced around the room just out of reach! Tabmow and the unicorn charged the choppers and made short work of them to escape.

FindingsTunnel Goons is quick and fun, but very swingy when it comes to combat. Probably needs more hit points or something. It's very easy to die in 2 failed rolls. I guess, when you think about it, your character is a DC 7, because when you roll 2d6 you would do/take damage 50% of the time against another DC 7, right? You'd be evenly matched. So rating "easy" as an 8 might be a stretch. That's probably average difficulty because you will usually have at least a +1 at your disposal. Easy should be more like 5 or 6.  To Nate's credit, it's hard to set difficulty standards because you don't know how liberal people will be with adding +s from their inventory. If the average bonus is something like +3, then his DCs would be spot on.

Dungeon Builder is a cool start to something better, but a bit rough in its current form. I felt like the columns of text were missing some sort of underlying structure (like adjective, threat-noun, twist) that would have made the results a bit more meaningful and easier to interpret.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Shroom Goons

The Viridian Scroll - Sat, 08/24/2019 - 23:59
TLDR: Shroom Goons is a free and awesome game with cool art. Play tiny shroom people and fight smorks!

"Trama is the loosely woven hyphal tissue in basidiomycetous fungi forming the central substance of the lamellae or other projections of the hymenophore."

Oookay. :) It is also one of the three stats in Shroom Goons, an awesome little hack of Nate Treme's Tunnel Goons. At first I wasn't crazy to see that the concise package of Goons had been expanded to over 2,000 words, but they all count. The page of setting material is outstanding as is the mutations. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Characters & Canges to the SystemIn form, you are a 3-6" tall sentient fungus.

Mechanically, it is standard Goons with renamed stats, Siblings, cool items, and Traits. Siblings are other mushrooms from your original patch with whom you share a psychic bond. When (ok, if) you die, you carry on in the body of a sibling.

The items work the same as in original Goons but the wild inventiveness of them is to be admired. You may be carrying a Teaspoon Shovel, or d6 Beer Can Tabs, or even an Insect Wing Glider or a few pages from a Car Repair Guide.

But what really makes you special is your Trait – which is a kind of mutant power. There are 24 of them and you get one randomly: Devil Fingers, Witch-Butter Body, Mindtrap Spores, Mimicry ... it's your superpower.


Art by Karl Stjernberg?! I'm sold.

The WorldI'm just going to reproduce the first two paragraphs of the setting as written. Because ... it's just so cool and fun.

Shroomfolk hail from the enchanted wetlands of The Fluorescent Neverglades. Surreal, brightly colored swamps and marshlands that by the light of the Nevermoon looks like the world you see in blacklight posters. The Shrooms tend to build settlements on raised glades and in the mossy trees overlooking their spawning patches. Shroom folk are a relatively pastoral lot -- building small farms of cultivated compost and herding bugs, tame rodents, and other fungus-based animals (such as “Shroom Steeds”). Of course the Neverglades have many inhabitants -- froglorps, banthers, rocodiles, and the dreaded Smorks. Smorks are a species of small, bluish pig- faced imps. They are chaotic, often clumsy, and always dreadful despite their jolly demeanors. They sing cheerful murder songs while raiding the Shroom villages. You can always spot their leader by the blood-red caps they adorn.
Fucking Smorks. Amiright?!


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

How to manipulate narratives when telling stories in role playing games

The Disoriented Ranger - Sat, 08/24/2019 - 12:33
Hey there. Long time no see ... This blog is not deserted, it's just really slow right now. So many things to do, like, working on getting my first role playing game published or writing short fiction. Most people don't realize, I think, how much time it actually takes to write a complete game from scratch. Anyway, I'm already digressing. What I want to talk about today connects loosely to the last post I had published here, but instead of talking about how to tact combat a bit differently, I'd like to shed some light on how to narrate stories. Or at least how I do it. This applies to all role playing games ...
The Basics
We all have a basic understanding of stories and how timing is the crucial element in everything we tell or listen to or look at. Even with totally random occurrences we tend to interpret our surroundings towards patterns we believe to recognize. We are also able to re-calibrate and update narratives as soon as new information manifests.
There is a beat to it, and even if you are not able to reproduce it, we all know how to recognize it. The reproducing part, however, is what's crucial when participating in the games we play, as all participants are helping to make the narrative manifest. Actually, they will do so if they want or not. I guess that is an important point to make: it's not that we are not contributing, it's how well we are contributing that we have to look at.Timing is everything ... [source]It does matter if you tell bad jokes all the time, if you constantly miss the beat or if you try to contribute, but constantly run in the wrong direction or disrupt the game ... Everything that happens at the table is part of the manifesting narrative. Everything. The lighting, that one player's smelling feet, the divorce story another player keeps telling. It all contributes and part of a DMs job is to navigate and even manipulate the flow of information input towards an engaging experience which then will lead to a memorable narrative (which then, in retrospective, will be called "the story").
That's why groups "cast" players or why people want to keep the chatter to a minimum or why breaks are necessary or why we can only play for so long before the game starts falling apart at the fringes. That's, ultimately, why DM's need tools and systems to enhance their games.
I've said it before and I'll most likely keep saying it: the way I see it, we use the rules of our games as the extension to what we communicate during the game and as described above, it all actually matters, the lingo and terms, the resolve mechanisms, it all helps shaping the game through altering the narrative. The art of writing proper rules, then, needs to include an awareness how telling engaging stories works and how to improve on that. It always boils down to this.
So that's the basics. Everyone contributes all the time, and we should aim to improve and manipulate the flow of information towards a better game.
How to Weave a Narrative
"Weaving" is the key analogy here, I think. Everything is always everywhere on hand, same goes for the moment at the table and it moves and changes constantly. The game gives you a rhythm to apply (good games do), so you have random encounters occurring either in intervals or when probable. Fights have structure to enhance the tension, there are some fail conditions and recognizable patterns to manipulate and extrapolate from on all levels (not only on a meta-level). You have campaign arcs, quest goals, advancement ... The list goes on.
Rules I like to add to the games I'm designing also generate abstract patterns to apply to the manifesting narrative. Tools to manipulate the flow or weave the narrative. I call them "narrative encounters", as in, not a creature or NPC the characters are encountering, but a twist in the story or an unexpected impulse to the narrative.
There are three, in my opinion, crucial benefits for a DM to extend control over the narrative to some form of external system: (1) it offers changes the DM might not have come up with on his own (as we get stuck easily in patterns we like to reproduce), (2) the sum of those impulses helps to conjure the overall impression of, say, genre and (3) it allows foreshadowing from seemingly random decisions happening at the table, since you not necessarily need to now where things are going and instead know what it's going to shape towards.
The Hero's Journey is a prime example of having a pattern like this, but I like to push it all a little further, actually, as I think it's so abstract that, while obviously working, still will reduce a game to just one pattern. It can be applied to the overall structure of a campaign. Easily and to great effect. But I like a bit more random in there. A bit more Tarantino or Pynchon, if you will. As I see it, our games tend to manifest as picaresque, naturally so due to the different sources contributing to the narrative.[source]I have talked about this on length here on the blog, actually (read it all here). What I didn't do, though, was actually talking about what it takes to make it work. It sure is implied, but (as we do so often) I assumed it being obvious. Part of the reason to write this here post is the realization that it needs a little more than "just" the theory and all the pieces.
For now, just remember: if you weave something, you don't only do sowith what you have, you also do it towards a goal. However, there is still more to that ...
Recognizing the Elements of Stories  The first thing we need to be aware of, is THE STAGE. It's the concepts that make the world the game is set in or the understanding and knowledge of the pieces that make a campaign. In a sense, it means narrowing down the expected outcomes of certain patterns (we have magic and no modern weaponry, people believe in fatalism, capitalist theories are banned or hard SF versus Space Opera ... stuff like that).
However, as a stage, it needs to be more concrete than that. It needs details about the area the characters are exploring, to a degree that the players can make informed decisions about their characters and so that the DM is in a position to have lots of moving pieces he can use without harming the Suspense of Disbelief (basically informing the players about possible negative outcomes or ramifications of actions, at least in general enough terms for them to have them believing in those pieces interfering as the narrative responses to their actions).
The Stage, in a sense, is the part of the sandbox around a group they can be aware of and the toys they can interact, with some horizon for their expectations.
THE CHARACTERS are the second big element of each story. The player start with the same process of choice eliminations when deciding what character they are playing. Characters come with certain patterns how they interact with their surroundings. When players make characters, they agree to apply those patterns by interpreting their character's actions towards them (not necessary to follow them, but to play with them in a way that is recognizable by all participants ... the cleric falling from grace, the fighter not willing to fight, stuff like that is within that realm of possibilities).
Each player has a pattern (or several, depending on the complexity of the characters) to contribute to the manifesting narrative as part of an ongoing dialogue, or rather, moderated argument what's going to happen next and why.
THE CHARACTERS are the tools with which the players are able to interact with THE STAGE. Their senses, if you will.
The third major element are the NARRATIVE IMPULSES a DM gives to all those interacting pieces. Some of it comes from the system (or his use of it), some of it comes from the hints he provides the characters with (as in "invitations to act"), some of it comes from moderating all the offerings the players make to interact (when he interprets their ideas to his concepts of how things work on THE STAGE), but the main part of his work is, imho, the twists he is able to weave into the story, the timing.

Be that bambus ... [source] The last crucial aspect is a BELIEVABLE REALM OF POSSIBILITIES, which means that players need to believe that their decisions have real impact. Some of that is carried by the rules (and in that regard, rules benefit from complexity in that they extent the REALM), but a huge part of that is actually down to a DMs flexibility to streamline all the impulses manifesting at any given moment during the game with his own NARRATIVE IMPULSES towards believable outcomes in the perceivable future of the STAGE the narrative is manifesting on. Not only what's happening, but (far more importantly, where it's happening towards.
If all the aforementioned are to a huge degree craft (system mastery, planned management of expectations and moderation) and knowledge about how we actually perceive stories (so we can manipulate them towards seeded expectations), that last one is where the art is. It's like Jazz. It's the ability to recognize and weave randomly emerging patterns into a cohesive and ongoing narrative that actually seems to go somewhere, all that on the fly. There's lots to talk about there.
The Taoist Approach: Doing Without Doing
Once things are set into motion, once players start interacting with their narrative surroundings, a DM is best advised to hold back and react spontaneously as the game dictates and offers opportunities. If he has no agenda beyond what is already established and a loose idea how it might change in the immediate future, he'll have it easier to recognize the patterns as they emerge. It puts him in a position where he can react instead of needing to act all the time to keep the game afloat. That's what "Doing Without Doing" means.
In a sense it means the DM is leaning back and observing what is happening, always only adjusting the game towards the established and letting the rest run its course until an opportunity arises to enhance the game in another direction. A bit like fishing, if you will.

It's all about opportunity ... [source]As established above, part of being able to maintain this state, is having an idea where the pattern is going to. Not in a concrete way, but as an abstract narrative encounter area the game is gearing towards. How about an example: betrayal. To have a betrayal, it needs a situation where someone is getting betrayed. The Narrative Generator linked to above will also deliver genre-appropriate agents for the betrayal or vague reasons for it. Conditions, in a way, that need to be met to make the narrative encounter manifest.
So the DM takes his time, letting the game flow, manipulating it gently towards a situation where the betrayal could be placed most effectively. It also doesn't mean that the characters need to be betrayed, it can mean that they hear a story about someone being betrayed, get an opportunity to intervene with a betrayal or even, that they need to betray someone to reach a goal. Just as the pattern emerges and opportunity dictates.
In my games, I have at least 3 such narrative encounters prepared for each session. How it all manifests is the campaign log. The important bit is to keep this as vague as possible to be able to apply it to what is actually happening at the table. In that regard, it doesn't matter what the characters are doing, betrayal will be part of the narrative in the immediate future (just like encountering goblins would be with a random monster encounter). It's all the characters' decisions and the DMs spontaneous reaction to it, guided by some vaguely predetermined shifts in the narrative that are accepted within the realm of possibility.
The amount of tact and timing you are able to put into this determines to a huge degree the quality of the narrative that is manifesting at the table and the stories being told about it afterwards. 
The Limits of Control
As outlined above, I firmly believe that we don't need a grand narrative. Not in a sense that a DM needs to know he concrete outlines of a campaign (it is a matter of debate if something like this is even possible without a great deal of manipulation towards what the players want ...). There are limits to the control a DM can (or should) have over the manifesting narrative.

The course is the campaign, the trainer is the DM. the players ... [source]DMs define a realm of possibility, players decide how they interact within that, DM reacts to that. Being too specific in that regard will result in a (too) simple win/fail mechanic and the mindset coming along with that. It is bound to be disappointing.

Accepting those limits can open up the game for the DM in a way that has him in a spot where he can play as well. Let's go with the betrayal above and say the DM has a specific NPC in mind that will betray the characters, but they never interact with that NPC again for some reason or another. The DM is now in a situation where he created something he's not able to use unless he forces it upon the characters for some reason.

An easy out here would be to have someone tell the characters a story about that character betraying someone else, which might at least have the characters thinking they dodged a bullet there. However, that's not the point. It rather should illustrate how dependent a DM is on the course of action the players decide on and how prepared he is to deal with it. Or better: where his focus lay in preparation.

The limits of control for a DM are with the specific outcomes of the narrative impulses over multiple instances. If you think something along the lines of:
 "A needs to happen, so B can happen and I can hit them with C, gearing the game towards G ..."you are two steps ahead too far, because what will always happen is more along the lines of:
"X will happen and you have A to gear it towards. which will result in XAY and you having a B to navigate towards, which will have, of course, the result of XAYB and you having C already in sight, so ..."ABC and so on is what you have control over. They are impulses, which is what has us coming full circle to the point I made in the beginning, as those impulses will have an impact on the narrative. They inform genre and if that realm of possibilities is chosen well, the sum of the possible results will give you your Grand and Epic Narrative! The play reports I'm writing here can be examples of that, I think. If nothing else, the stories described there are completely a result of what I described above (you want two good examples, check this one out and this one).

And, done ...

That's it, folks. I'm of the opinion that we need to go places with our designs that accomodate A DMs work where it really counts. It's not all intuitive, although it can be, but most of all, needs to be with most games since that kind of support is missing. It can be explained how we tell better stories in our games. And if we are able to explain it properly, other can learn it as well and get beter at it.

I hope I'm getting closer to offer some valuable insight into how we need to push a little harder when exploring what the games we play actually do and how to make that better. It's one area where we still can innovate, in my opinion.

I'll leave it at that, for now. I get a feeling that I circle the same ideas for some time now (for the simple reason that I need answers for the games I write) and I'm not sure that it still makes for endearing reading anymore. One realisation of late I had is that  might have to change the direction of the blog somewhat away from writing about my ideas of design and more towards something more, idk, easily digestible?

I have an idea for that as well ... We'll see if I can pull it of. I have to chose wisely what I have to write for the rest of the year, as it already shapes up to be a busy couple of months. However, if things go as planned, you'll have a lot more to read in another format in a couple of months. Until then, friends and neighbours.

Soon ...

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Gamers' Notebook Grid/Hex Version is Live on Kickstarter

Oubliette - Thu, 08/22/2019 - 17:43
I've just launched a new campaign on Kickstarter to fund the final print run in a series of three of our Gamers' Notebooks. This time One side will have 7mm hexes with a outline for a 15 hexes high superhex. The facing page will have a 6mm grid. Both pages will have lines at the bottom of the page for writing notes.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1730454032/a5-gamers-notebook-grid-and-hex-version


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Don’t Bug Out

Torchbearer RPG - Thu, 08/22/2019 - 13:00
Bridge to Nowhere by Todd James

Hello friends!

You know what you can never have enough of as a Torchbearer GM? Monsters. I’ve been experimenting with some fun new critters inspired by the arthropods all around us, and Luke has been experimenting with a new stat block. I can’t replicate it exactly in WordPress, but this is a close approximation.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on both!

Fire Beetle Nature 3Might 2Burrowing, Feeding, ScuttlingInstinct: Scavenge for food.Type: Beast

Special Rules: Fire Gland. Each gland gives off light equivalent to a candle. If skillfully removed (Hunter, Ob 3), the glands (hand/carried 1 or pack 1) will continue to provide illumination for some time (at the beginning of each new adventure phase, roll 1d6; on a result of 1 or 2, the luminescence fades). If the glands are ruptured, the chemical inside will burn flesh, wood and cloth.

Hit Points Kill
7Drive Off
6Flee/
Pursue
3

Other Conflict Hit Points: Within Nature: Roll Nature, add successes to Nature rating. Outside of Nature: Roll half Nature. Add successes to Nature rating.

Armor: Carapace (protects on a roll of 3-6; arrows, spears and bolts ignore this armor).

WeaponConflictADFMBurning MandiblesKill
Drive Off+1s — — — BurrowingFlee/Pursue+1D — — +2D Fire Beetle Description

These red and black beetles are between 2 feet and 3 feet long. Each has three glowing glands—two above their eyes and one near the back of their abdomen. They can burrow and are found deep underground. Their mandibles are coated with a natural chemical that causes burning pain.

Formian Guardian Nature 4Might 4Burrowing, Hunting, Spitting AcidInstinct: Lurk in a burrow and wait for preyType: Beast

Special Rules: Ambush Attacker. Formians like to burrow into the earth and lurk just below the surface, waiting for prey to walk upon their hunting grounds. When they sense the vibrations of footsteps, they strike from below! If characters fail to detect the presence of an Formian, the first one to walk into the ambush must roll Health vs. the Formian’s Nature. Suggested failure result: Twist. The character is buried in the earth by the Formian’s eruption and trapped until rescued or eaten.

Hit Points Flee/
Pursue
9Kill
7Drive Off
5

Other Conflict Hit Points: Within Nature: Roll Nature, add successes to Nature rating. Outside of Nature: Roll half Nature. Add successes to Nature rating.

Armor: Chitin. Absorbs one point of damage from an opponent’s attack or feint. Once successes are counted and before damage is applied, reduce damage by one. After use, roll d6: on a 1-3, the chitin is damaged and doesn’t provide further benefit. On a 4-6, the chitin is still usable. Maces and warhammers negate chitin’s effect, but the Formian must still check for damage when hit by them.

WeaponConflictADFMCorrosive AcidKill
Drive Off — — +1D — Crushing MandiblesKill
Drive Off+1D — — — Grasping LegsKill
Drive Off — — — +1sTremorsenseFlee
Pursue+1D+1D — — Formian Guardian Description

A massive six-legged arthropod the size of a pony, with a voracious taste for flesh. They are blind but are extremely sensitive to any sort of vibration. Formians burrow into earth and lurk below the surface, waiting for vibrations to indicate prey is above. Formians are capable of spitting a corrosive acid that turns their prey into a viscous jelly ready for consumption.

While Formians are usually solitary predators, some shell-shocked adventurers tell tales of venturing into the Below and discovering nesting caverns swarming with the horrifying insects.

Giant Centipede Nature 4Might 3Creepy-Crawling, Hunting, ScavengingInstinct: Paralyze them and devour later.Type: Beast

Special Rules: Paralyzing Venom. The giant centipede’s paralyzing venom incapacitates victims. Anyone knocked out of a conflict with a giant centipede can only be brought back into a conflict if the Breath of the Burning Lord invocation is used upon the character. The Defend action cannot replenish the disposition of paralyzed attackers who have not been treated by the invocation.

Hit Points Flee/
Pursue
10Kill
8Drive Off
6

Other Conflict Hit Points: Within Nature: Roll Nature, add successes to Nature rating. Outside of Nature: Roll half Nature. Add successes to Nature rating.

Armor: Rubbery hide. If targeted by a successful or tied Attack or Feint in a fight, roll a d6. On a 4+, the rubbery hide absorbs one point of damage. On a 1-3, the rubbery hide fails to protect you. You can only make this roll once per fight. Spears, bolts and arrows ignore this armor.

WeaponConflictADFMParalyzing VenomFlee/
Pursue
Kill
Drive Off+1D — +1s — Scuttling LegsFlee/
Pursue
Kill
Drive Off — — — +2D Giant Centipede Description

A three- to -six feet long predatory segmented arthropod with many legs. Some grow even bigger. They have a set of savage, pincer-like legs just behind the head that they use to inject their prey with a paralytic venom. They are often found creepy-crawling and feeding among the corpses of recent battles and massacres, especially in dungeons.

Giant Wasp Nature 2Might 2Buzzing, Nesting, StingingInstinct: Sting! Kill! Rawwr!Type: Beast

Special: Painful Sting. A wasp’s sting automatically impedes its victim (-1D to opponent’s next action following a successful Attack or Feint).
Vulnerable to Fire. Wasps suffer an extra point of disposition loss against fire (torches, balefire, etc.).

Hit Points Flee/
Pursue
5Drive Off
4Kill
3

Other Conflict Hit Points: Within Nature: Roll Nature, add successes to Nature rating. Outside of Nature: Roll half Nature. Add successes to Nature rating.

WeaponConflictADFMBuzzing WingsFlee/
Pursue+1D
+1s — — +1D
+1s Buzzing WingsDrive Off
Kill — — — +1D
+1sStingerKill+1D — +1s — Giant Wasp Description

These aggressive insects are as large as a human’s head and armed with a deadly stinger. They live in elaborate hives made of paper-like material (good for starting fires or making incendiaries).

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Eberron & the Jackelian Sequence

Sorcerer's Skull - Thu, 08/22/2019 - 11:00

The announcement of a 5e Eberron book got me thinking about a similar setting that I like better than Eberron: Stephen Hunt's Jackelian series. I wrote about it back in 2011. Hunt wrote a few more novels in the series after that point, but it's a shame there has never been an rpg.

Anyway, the novels are well work checking out.

From Whence the Magic Comes (Siege Indigo)

3d6 Traps & Thieves - Wed, 08/21/2019 - 17:25

WHAT?
Start with the campaign premise of, “What if magic was not meant for humans?” A setting where “demihumans” wield magic naturally (in their own distinct ways) but humans have to settle for unreliable scraps and their own ingenuity. Not to say that humans won’t be ruling great kingdoms in this setting – they’re just not particularly magical when compared to the domains of the dwarves, elves, gnomes, and halflings.
Last of the “Color-Titled” post-Avremier setting variants.

WHY?
To be honest, that was the whole of my premise. Sometimes, I want a game where magic is – magical. Where you don’t have magic shops available for the shopping convenience of treasure-laden adventurers. Where magic is rare, and weird, and non-generic. Where the non-human races seem truly non-human – not just fantasy caricatures of humanity. Besides, look at some of the famous protagonists of fantasy fiction.
·         Merlin) But, look – the most famous human wizard of all! Except, that Merlin was half-demon, a heritage from which his supernatural abilities sprang.·         Conan) A magic-hating human barbarian that lived by his sword and his own free will.·         The Fellowship of the Ring) A ranger, a fighter, an elf, a dwarf, four halflings, and a wizard. For the record, Gandalf was not human. Also, just about all the magic items were made by elves, dwarves, or Sauron.·         Elric) Powerful magician, but not a human.·         Kane) Human warrior somewhat reliant upon alien technology and forbidden magic that turned on him more often than not.·         Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser) Another mighty-thewed barbarian, and a talented sneak thief who dabbled unsuccessfully in magic before giving it up mostly for the sword and his own wit. Each has a wizardly patron – neither of which is human.
HOW?
If you want a magic-using character in this setting, you’ll need a background similar to that of a comic book superhero origin story. From whence does your magic originate?
·         Accident) Were you bitten by an enchanted spider and now find yourself with mystical spidery powers and attributes? Were you born on a dying world and sent to this one for your own good? Maybe a falling star impacted near the place you were born at the moment of your birth.·         Blood) Do you have powerful magical forebears? Are you part demon? Fae? Angel? Elemental? Something else? Of course, there’s always alchemy – maybe your blood is no longer entirely blood.·         Bookish) You somehow learned how to read some dead language and later discovered that all magical tomes and scrolls are written in this language. So, through accumulating pages of this stuff, you struggle to master the meagerest of magicks.·         Gumption) If you look hard enough, you might be able to find some old, forgotten, forbidden, hidden, dangerous alien magic or magic-like technology. Those who can’t do – steal.·         Patron) Perhaps you are supported or guided by a supernatural entity that lends you magic from time to time.
In any case – there are options.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Wednesday Comics: A New Episode of Bronze Age Book Club

Sorcerer's Skull - Wed, 08/21/2019 - 11:00
Here's the latest episode, taking on Adventure Comics #462. Oh, and we're now on Google podcasts and Apple podcasts. Like! Subscribe!


Listen to "Episode 3: ADVENTURE COMICS #462" on Spreaker.

A Brief Glimpse of Forever (Violet Grimoire)

3d6 Traps & Thieves - Wed, 08/21/2019 - 01:52

VIOLET GRIMOIRE
A central MacGuffin for the setting, this volume of work is said to contain the secrets of true immortality. A legendary treasure (artifact) that has been the goal of countless adventurers and other seekers. It has been the lifelong pursuit of Andraeun Nemacae, with the reluctant support of his wealthy, influential, and eccentric family.

The reality of the Violet Grimoire is variable – depending on the goals and flavor of the campaign. The Grimoire offers immortality, but of what kind – and, at what cost? Let’s list some possibilities.
  1. Accursed: You are immortal – in one form or other, but at a terrible cost.
  2. Avatar: Your physical form is a vessel for some outer being or divinity. It is possible that your body will be altered to better suit the occupant. It is also possible that your body will not survive the transformation.
  3. Immortality: You do not age. You are impervious to most forms of harm. You have no need to eat, drink, or breathe. You are no longer mortal.
  4. Possession: Your physical form is the shared host for a being that preserves you as best it can for its own good.
  5. Regenerating: Not only have you stopped aging, but you regenerate from harm. You are very difficult to kill. In fact, you would have to be destroyed utterly to keep from being restored.
  6. Reincarnation: Yes, you can die – but you will somehow be reborn in a new form, with the memories and experiences of your previous lives.
  7. Spirit: You are a disembodied spirit. You will not pass on to the afterlife and are able to possess the living with effort, for limited periods of time.
  8. Transference: Your intellect and consciousness are placed inside an alternate physical shell. In theory, this can be continued indefinitely as long as there are viable shells available and the means of transference.
  9. Unaging: You do not age. Period. Barring incident, you could live for a very long time.
  10. Undead: You become some sort of free-willed undead monster, like a vampire or lich.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Zenopus Game at Dragonflight 40

Zenopus Archives - Wed, 08/21/2019 - 01:34



Above are two photos from a "Beneath the Ruined Tower of Zenopus" game that was run at Dragonflight 40 in the Seattle area this past weekend. This is a venerable con, held every year since 1980, the era of Holmes Basic itself. From the event listing for the session:

"50 years ago, the citizens of Portown battered the wizard's tower to rubble. But has an even greater evil arisen? Pirates grow bold, the innocent have vanished, and ghastly screams are heard from the abandoned graveyard near the ruins. An adventure using the original (1977) Dungeons and Dragons basic rules. Pregens provided (or roll your own)."
The shots were taken by Scott M. of the Halls of Tizun Thane blog, who played in the game. Scott reports they used some of my Holmes Ref sheets; I can see the 1-page Character Creation Worksheet. I also see print-outs of Paleologos' Map of Portown.

Scott reports that during the game "[w]e followed a rumor of scratching noises at a ladies' house with her dead husband's loot in the basement" and "[I] sent in my guy Gutboy Barrelhouse (Dwarf) and a Hobbit first. We eventually got to a place where we saw flickering lights (which rats can't make) so we got the rest of the party to follow (hands and knees at first)". After that they "[e]nded up exploring the dungeons most of the session".

That sounds like Portown Rumor #18! It's great to hear about this stuff being used.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

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