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Role-Play Ramblings 2.2: Planting Seeds

Gamer Goggles - Mon, 01/02/2017 - 17:45

In this episode of Role-Play Ramblings Matt talks about planting seeds.  Which in this conversation is a combination of foreshadowing, note taking, listening and even closure.


This is something that I think newer GM’S struggle with, but once it’s learned it is very rewarding.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

On a New Year

Hack & Slash - Mon, 01/02/2017 - 16:40
The reply to the interrogatories in my custody case glowed on my screen. The specifics caused nausea.
My brother's name stood there in her list of witnesses.
J[Redatcted] C[Redatcted]
[Address redatcted]
I texted him.
"Did you know that [Redacted] is planning on calling you as a witness against me in court?"Sent. . . Read."No, no I did not. That is upsetting."
My paranoia flares down. I don't talk about it any more with him, because he's free to say what he wants. 
A week later he texted me: "Call me when you are able." I did. 
I hadn't heard from my father post-surgery. It was a routine procedure. He had called everyone before the operation. Can you know? We went to see him, before he was "disconnected". From trapped, to half-life after he died, to a funeral home, keeping us distanced from the reality of death. 
The Past
I don't like the internet much because it's full of lies from everyone. Every lie just betrays more ignorance about real issues moving forward. This is full-stop nothing to do with left or right politics. It has to do with ignorance, lies, and systems of control. All of these political social media posts are lies. All of them. Especially yours*. They are ignorant, because not one focuses on meaningful or important issues. 
I've been avoiding the internet because of it. 
The crux of the issue is that the management of humanity is a complicated endeavor fraught with danger. An article is just a way to scrape money from advertisers. It's shared by people who have beliefs unrelated to facts (or reality), who only have a vested interest in avoiding cognitive dissonance. 
That certainly isn't what I want to fill my time with. What I'm bothered by the most is that there is no discussion of issues critical to our future. 
How many times have you seen social media posts on the use of CRISPA to eliminate malaria forever? Or, what happens after that? Once we open the door to genetic control of our children and planet? Would you use it to edit your unborn child to avoid getting fat? Because you can, you know, today; Since they've had the option to use CRISPA for at least a year, I think maybe we should be talking about it.
Oh, hey, how about this. Do you know many employed horses? Really? If there weren't any new jobs for horses, why do you think there are going to be new jobs for you? Cars are self driving with safer records than humans today. Seen the self-checkout lane at the supermarket? Some machine diagnostician artificial intelligences (not symptom checkers)  have significantly better outcomes than human doctors today. The real employment rate is dropping (and a complicated sticky wicket). Programmers are teaching computers to compose and write music, create art- they already write the majority of books for sale on amazon.** Jobs are rapidly being eliminated. Maybe, if someone is forced out of the job market by a labor saving device, like most of humanity will be in the next few decades, we shouldn't treat them as a burden to society.
The FutureThe sonuvabitch of it is, that by all available metrics, the world is getting better. Less war. Less death. More wealth. More equality. We are eliminating diseases, traveling in space, curing cancer, extending life. I mentioned this to a lady I worked with and she literally left the room due to how much this conflicted with her conception of reality. It was too important to her world-view that things be getting worse.
Oh, and we won the role-playing fight too. People can make and play whatever they want. Kingdom Death is getting millions. No one is saying people can't play that! It's out! It's getting made! The new D&D is still crunchy and mainstream, but our voice was heard. The Dungeon Master can run the game. New levels in production and usefulness are still being reached. Gaming is good. Gaming is healthy. No one I know lacks for games to play.
Looking back over the last 8 years of this blog, I find that I live (mostly) in the world I had hoped to in regards to gaming. I've been dealing with separation and fighting for some legal affirmation that I am in fact, my daughters father. Every time I read the internet I'm assaulted with ignorance and hate and cruelty and stupidity from the luckiest people to ever be alive. 
I've changed, you've changed, the world has changed.

Personally, in spite of the endless personal setbacks I've had this last year, I'm happier than I've ever been. The best use of my blog going forward is to expand beyond just talking about role-playing.

Common wisdom says, you know, not to do that. You want to brand. You want people to come to you for one thing. Fuck that I guess. I still love gaming and am still working on gaming (and gaming adjacent products). I've learned a lot about myself and who I am and the ways in which I'd like to share. In the year going forward we're going to see a bunch of new things. You've already seen some of the type of things I'm talking about; the in-depth look at the Catalyst fiasco.

I'm interested in feedback about this and about the new things I'll be trying. Take the opportunity to let me know if you like or hate a new thing. It'll be a week or two before I'm fully back up to speed, but I'm looking forward to 2017.

I hope you are too.
* I'm not calling them out, because I don't want to get engaged in pointless debate. But literally every political post is made by person ignorant of facts; almost universally unconcerned about that ignorance. Conservative and Liberal. ** As always, these facts are subject to spin, but that's not the point. The point is that today there are very few things humans do that machines or computers cannot either do better or have a path to be superior than humans at. Nobody is breaking apart automated assembly lines to reinstall human laborers. Once replaced by automation, new jobs are not created and the jobs do not return. This point is philosophically neutral. The end of needing humans to labor is not. 

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Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Creativity is Fed by Illness it Seems

Tenkar's Tavern - Mon, 01/02/2017 - 16:27
So, yesterday I was pretty much laid out for the day and something strange happened - the writer's block I've suffered recently didn't just end, it started me back at the beginning and moved forward.

Whereas before I had a half dozen adventure seeds that weren't able to get over the creative hump, last night I had an adventure outlined on paper, rooms being detailed and everything already detailed in my head. Surprisingly, I don't seem to have lost anything in that head of mine after a solid 10 hours sleep.

Now, life rarely cooperates with such niceties, and lo and behold, Pinkie and my sis are coming over in half an hour. Thankfully, Pinkie, all of six years going on middle age in some ways, has been known to order me to sit at my desk and write - just need to see if I can convince her to do the same today.

So, a dozen kobolds and an ogre walk into a tomb...
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Role-Play Ramblings 2.1 Note Taking

Gamer Goggles - Mon, 01/02/2017 - 16:02

To start Season two of Role-Play Ramblings Matt talks about the importance of note taking in an RPG.  He covers who should takes notes and  when some of the better times for taking them are.



I had a lot of fun filming this episode.  It took me a lot longer than I thought it would to play three people, but I had a blast.  I hope to do more like this in the future.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

TPK for the In-laws

Sorcerer's Skull - Mon, 01/02/2017 - 12:36

We spent New Year's with my wife's parents, and she really wanted to introduce them to D&D. They are avid gamers of the Catan/Carcassone/Pandemic sort but had never played an rpg. On the way to their place, we bought the 5e Starter Set (mainly to get ahold of the Lost Mines of Phandelver intro adventure), but also for the sample characters.

I'm sorry to say Squire Bill the Dwarf Cleric, Maggie the Elf Wizard, and Sara Longstreet the Fighter, were all lost in a goblin den. It was the first TPK of the new year. Hell, it's my first one as a DM in decades, perhaps.

While this was sort of on the fly and an introductory game not the start of a campaign, I did reskin a few thinks to make them more in line with my sensibilities, taking some suggestions from Gus L's critique of the adventure here. The PCs started in media res walking along the road from Knarr to Fandlin, where they know there is to be a festival honoring St. Frithona. I vaguely had in mind a Canterbury Tales riff, and I may differ a bit from Gus in my stance on funny names (I want them to be consistent in a way that suggest culture and interesting, but I do not necessarily see facility of player use as primary concern. If they can't remember them, they can take notes.) so I actually added more than are in the adventure while I altered the ones they were there. So the PCs soon encounter the gruff dwarven outfitter with a secret, Rockseeker Gev, and his associate, Silfer, and soon after, a pilgrim camp with Maudrey (a corpulent merchant), Eilmer (a used car salesman-esque relic seller), Bregwin (a taciturn female fighter with a hatred of goblins), and Karthusa (a nervous tinkerwoman).

After Gev and Silfer are apparently kidnapped in a goblin attack--and the player's find a tantalizing but unreadable map to the ruins--they track the goblins back to their lair.

In the end, it was mostly bad rolls that took them down and even then it was a close thing: the last PCs was felled by the last goblin in a room who was himself hanging on only by 1 HP. I suppose I should have had the goblin flee at that point to raise alarm (and give the PCs time to maybe attempt escape), but it happened relatively fast and the contest was so close. In any case, the player's seemed to enjoy the game, despite feeling they had "lost" in the end. Being more conformable with boardgames with role-playing the combat was more to their liking than the NPC interaction, so this introductory thing suited them better than one of my adventures might have.

Black Orc Down

Ten Foot Pole - Mon, 01/02/2017 - 12:15

By Kieran Brannan
Point Pony
Basic D&D
Levels 1-3

Nobody else wanted to take on a job of helping out an orc, but if their gold is good then who cares … right? Black Orc Down puts the party on the trail of a missing orc chieftain. Can they rescue him from the dark mysteries of the Undercity beneath Forecastle? Can they uncover the vile plot which threatens to disrupt the power structure of The Shades? If they fail, will the death of one orc really matter that much?

This is twenty page adventure in the “undercity” on a linear map with seven locations in a high-fantasy setting. It hits, negatively, a large number of my review standards. It is not, however, incomprehensible, or hard to run, so at least it’s got that going for it.

There’s this generic fantasy city that’s been taken over by different pirate lords. Pretty standard stuff. It’s high fantasy though, so there’s orcs and goblins and so on, entire tribes, in the city. Bob the orc, leader of some minor blah blah blah orc clan, has fallen through a hole in the floor that gave way while he was on his throne. He’s now in the undercity, the ruins of the old city that the current one was built on top of. He was attacked by skeletons and ran off and his orc buddies tried to save him but were beaten back by the undead. They hire the party, for 100 gold, to go save their orc chief.

I hate high fantasy. Or, rather, I hate THIS sort of high fantasy. I get it, different strokes for different folks. Like what yhttps://crou want and all that jazz. But this just sucks. One of my points is that I like humans instead of humanoids as enemies, most of the time. Or maybe I mean “in certain situations.” A sidebar DOES encourage you to change the orcs (and later goblins) to humans if you’re not playing a high fantasy game, but I want to talk more about the use of humanoids in general. When you take an elf and make him a farmer, on of many in a human village, you generally destroy what it means to be an elf. Elf garbage collectors. Dwarf millers. You’ve just turned them in to humans with pointy ears or short humans. The same with the humanoids. These represent THE OTHER. They should be different. Scary. Maybe bestial. In this adventure the orcs advertise on the local job boards. When they greet you the read aloud says “Thank you so much for answering our request for aid.” Seriously? I get it it. High Fantasy. But … seriously? There’s NOTHING in this adventure that makes the orcs seem like orcs. Or makes the goblins (a tribe of which you meet later) seem like goblins. A society of overly polite orcs drinking tea with their pinkies out? I can get behind that. But generic humanoids? Nope. Sorry. Disbelief broken. Grimy humans? Ok. Human cannibals? Ok. Humans can do some fucked up shit and making humanoids humans instead can lead to some good revulsion. It’s more relatable. But generic orcs with a “thank you so much for answering our request for aid?” High fantasy or not, that sucks.

Twenty pages with seven encounters implies a high word count, and that’s present here. There’s a MASSIVE amount of read aloud. Paragraphs and paragraphs that add little to no value. The writing isn’t particularly evocative, although it is serviceable and clear, generally. It falls in to the trap of telling instead of showing. “The environment is an oppressive unwelcoming shroud …” Well, no. It’s not. When you TELL me its oppressive then its not oppressive. SHOW me. If you’re going to engage in this type of read-aloud then describe WHY. Let the players draw their own conclusions. There are reams and reams of advice on writing that tell you why showing is better than tellings. Go google it for more. Or don’t. Whatever.

There’s a table in this adventure I’d like to talk about. It’s a loot table, in case the party searches a random building in the undercity. A typical entry is “You manage to find a small cache of silverware worth 2d10sp.” BAD BAD BAD! It’s generic. Just “Silverware” It’s written in read-aloud mode. “You find …” Blech! “Elven filigree tarnished silver olive spoons, bent.” Instead we get “The jewellery is of simple design, being of a quality a merchant’s wife might wear.” Generic sucks ass. Specificity is the soul of storytelling. And do it in under fifteen words. Please.

And, to boot, there’s not a lot of treasure. At all. So little for Gold=XP that the adventure encourages a story award at the end for completing the quest. That’s NEVER good. It implies a right way and a wrong way to complete the adventure. I’d be more ok with just giving the party a flat 2000xp after every session, or something like that, instead of a “story” award. It removes free will from the players and forces them to complete an adventure in a certain way. If you squint, then Gold=XP does the same thing. Or, rather, ?=XP generally results in the play style being optimized to get the XP, and thus the party will do whatever. I prefer a free will game.

There’s a part of this adventure that I can’t decide on. It goes beyond the generic encounters and dull descriptions of the various rooms. You track some goblins back to their lair/hideout. You come out in the “throne” room. There’s a door. Goblins come through the door. The DM is instructed to make variable number of goblins come through it, in order to heighten tension and give a moment of drama. It is absolutely undeniable that barricading a door, goblins smashing in to it, daggers poking through it, etc, would be a great moment of drama in a game. But FORCING that situation is lame as fuck, especially with a “just keep sending in goblins to heighten the tensions” advice statement. Uncool. If it happens, great. If you want to put 10 goblins outside in the guardroom and have them rush in, loudly, after three rounds that the players hear, great. But forcing the situation is un cool advice. D&D absolutely does NOT need more shitty DM advice.

Ultimately, this is just another generic D&D adventure. There’s little soul to it, even if you accept the high fantasy premise.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Film Review: Moana

19th Level - Mon, 01/02/2017 - 01:52

I've a 14-year old daughter who has been lobbying me to write about Moana on my blog so Vicki, this is for you.
My family saw Moana on Christmas night and I was lobbied for a follow-up viewing on the afternoon of New Year's Day. While the image at the top of this post indicates it is from the creators of Zootopia and Frozen, much of the creative team worked on Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, and The Princess and the Frog. I can safely put it in the top tier of Disney animated films.
Moana tells the story of a girl, Moana, who lives on an island ruled by her father. She is heir to his role of chief. The island is a paradise, providing everything they need. Moana is a dreamer, being called to the sea. However, going out beyond the reefs around the island is considered dangerous and forbidden - and as a result her father, who is overall supportive of her and very loving, constantly discourages her urges to go out to sea. Her paternal grandmother, "the village crazy lady", on the other hand, is a big believer in the legends that say they will have to return to the sea - for ages ago the demigod Maui stole the heart of the goddess Te Fiti, unleashing great evil on the world. Someone will need to find the heart and Maui and make him return the heart. As crops and fishing begin failing, Moana goes on a journey on her own to do just that.
It would be unfair to give away much more detail so I'll focus a bit on the tone of the film and the performances. Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson plays Maui and I'll echo everyone else - who knew he could sing? Maui is a trickster demigod - not a bad guy and can usually be pushed towards heroism, but he has a selfish side where he's more interested in the praise for his deeds than he is in doing them because they are the right thing to do. Newcomer Auli'i Cravalho is perfectly cast as Moana, a teenage girl wrestling with her love of her home and family and her love of the sea. Casting an actual teen works well, as I've a hard time imagining an adult singing with such earnestness.
Musically, Moana is one of the best Disney films I've watched. It is very diverse, with songs yearning for the sea and discovery, over the top self-praise from Maui, and a glam-rock/David Bowie inspired number with a narcissist/homicidal crab. It makes use of both South Pacific culture and more contemporary Broadway and pop inspired music, often blending them together (such as ""We Know the Way"  being written and performed by Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda and South Pacific musician Opetaia Foa'i). 
Beyond all this, I'm a lover of nautical tales and this was a great one. The gamer is contemplating a Polynseian-inspired role-playing campaign. One thing I liked about Moana is everything in the film was from the perspective of the fictional Polynesian culture of the film - for the purposes of the film, their myths and legends were true. We don't even know if there's a "mainland" in this setting - outside of Moana's island the only intelligent beings we encounter are gods and demigods, the aforementioned crab, and a bunch of coonut pirates (work with me on that). 
At the time of my writing Moana is nearing the end of its theatrical run. If you miss it in the theater, I'd definitely suggest seeking it out when it comes out on video.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Inauspicious Start for the New Year? - A Stomach Bug Welcomes your Bartender to 2017 - But Then...

Tenkar's Tavern - Mon, 01/02/2017 - 00:52

Yeah, today has NOT been a fun day. Its been a good day for NYC NFL teams, but instead of watching the games from the pub or the couch, I've been watching mostly from bed. I've been knocked down by a stomach bug. Hasn't been fun.

There have been some bright spots though :)

+James Spahn forwarded the current draft of what is being referred to as Swords & Wizardry Extra Light and damn it looks good. I might have some occasional good ideas, but James has constant good ideas coupled with amazing writing skills. If all goes well the draft will be put into play next weekend.

Did I mention there is a Tenkar the Dwarf mini in the works? +Darcy Perry of Star Hat Minis is leaving me in awe with each update. Yep, that's the WIP pictured above.

Well, if I need a stomach bug to have such awesome progress being made on projects I am personally invested in, I guess I can handle it. 2017 looks better already ;)
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

OSR Commentary On The Forgotten Fane of The Coiled Goddess By Joseph D. Salvador From North Wind Adventures As Old School

Swords & Stitchery - Mon, 01/02/2017 - 00:44
"More than a month ago, your party found itself in Port Zangerios, where you heard of an Esquimaux thief selling a treasure map. Low on wealth but high in courage, you sought him out. The man turned out to be a fearful ex-slave who had “acquired” the map from his Ixian master. The map is incomplete but shews the Isle of the Serpent in far-off Lemuria, where rests a fabulous treasure calledNeedles
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Ape, Conqueror, & King - Twelve Seconds To Midnight A Mash Up Campaign Setting

Swords & Stitchery - Sun, 01/01/2017 - 19:34
The Supernatural  Wars in Nineteen Fifty five mark the end of the Third Reich & Adolf Hilter's reign. Two years later the first serious time travel experiments begin with a journey in time to the twenty third century. This resulted in a national incident with a United State Government think tank involved in artificial intelligent experimental work of Dr. Merinoe. This think tank Needles
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