Thursday, March 29, 2012

Shiny Shiny Boots

So it was a 3 anna half hour flight from Chicago to LAX and they put me next to a 19 year old girl who starts the conversation with "I like your tattoos Are you from California? I'm from Texas I never flew on a plane this big before I'm in the Navy Who does this bitch think she is?".

So, yeah, I knew immediately I was about to have a 3 anna half hour conversation. Or at least hear a 3 anna half hour monologue.

She alternated explaining (how to properly attach bombs to the bottom of an F-18 Hornet, how to treat your dress uniform if you're not a fucking dirtbag, how to salute a superior officer if you're not a fucking shithead, how great her all-marine corps family was even though they didn't let her join the marines, and what all her favorite (completely emopop damaged) hardcore bands were) with complaining (about: her ex-fiancee, "all authority", not having had a drink in 5 hours, how hard it is to get in to see bands on the weekends from the base, the inability of her stupid slutty drunk lazy bomb-attaching dirtbag subordinates to follow her Friday quitting time speech re: keeping their shit together on the weekends, her all-marine corps family, how hard it was to get a fake ID). So, basically: the kind of fantasmagoric museum of articulate cognitive dissonance you only ever get in 19 year olds and very inebriated senior citizens.

In addition to the terrifying information that this young woman was in charge of making sure explosive ordinance did not accidentally fall out of the sky onto parts of the state in which I currently reside and type and that she was actually in charge of other people, it occurred to me that this is the kind of individual they are talking about who really needs the whole brassy shindig of the US military to protect her--not from Osama Bin Laden, but from herself.

On the other hand, I once had a drink with Alex Macris--who you may know as the author of the most aggressively researched econocore parts of the Adventurer Conqueror King RPG--and he explained the brevity of his tenure with our esteemed armed forces at West Point on the following grounds:

So, f'r'example: we had to polish our boots all the time. But--well you used to have to polish your boots to waterproof them. That was the point. But now the boots are made of completely waterproof material. There's no point, it's just busywork. I could have been doing--anything. That stuff just drove me crazy. I left.

One could make a decent argument that our military could very well use Alex Macris. But he did not need it.

(I ran Alex's waterproofing parable past the 19-year-old. Her only response was: "Yeah, you gotta keep your boots spitshine. Hey, d'you know Jimmy Eat World?")
_

Now me myself personally I didn't ever understand about the army and its rules-obsession until I read about the Civil War. And then I got it: Oh, you have these rules and chains of commands and these lines and orders because 5 minutes into genuine combat you are going to have to rebuild all the wagons out of chicken wire because they've been torched, and make new gunpowder out of bacon grease and horse spit, and then eat the horse, and then replace a now-decapitated commanding officer with the closest native english speaker in the next 8 seconds. Because war.

So yes, there are sometimes good reasons for rules--or, as PJFalsemachine says here:

Warfare is very difficult and produces enormous stress in the people who undertake it. As a consequence, the organisations that are directed to warfare develop rituals, manners and structures that are designed to control, displace, channel, and otherwise deal with stress. Because these organisations develop such qualities they then attract individuals who find themselves in personal need of these qualities in normal life. (Italics mine.)((That is, anti-italics representing PJ's italics . -Z))

In Dixon's own words “..those very characteristics which are demanded by war – the ability to tolerate uncertainty, spontaneity of thought and action, having a mind open to the receipt of novel, and perhaps threatening, information – are the antitheses of those possessed by people attracted to the controls, and orderliness of militarism. Here is the germ of a terrible paradox.”

And then he goes on to draw the parallel you are probably already expecting to GMing which I'll try not to repeat too much of.

The most strenuous and obstinate arguments against the games I want to play always end up going "I've been playing RPGs for 300 years and the way you want to do it always ends in horrible badness because (someone at the tale who is an idiot or 12 does something only an idiot or 12 year old would do) and the game crashes and burns and everyone is sad and scarred with napalm and cries. The rules need to be like (some whole other boring endless thing about sucking and extra new rules that suck)" and you wonder Where are you that you know anyone who does that and needs to be told not to and why do you play games with them?

Rules. Rules are ok. The kinds of rules shape the game, as the kind of armies shape the war. But there are many other factors at work in a war: the terrain upon which it is fought, the politics that started it and surround it, the objectives of the war, and, naturally, the kinds of people fighting.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Comic Book Villains Ripe For D&Dification

Dr DoomVictor Von Doom of Latveria is periodically made medieval in actual Marvel comics. Evil knight behind perforated mask with a few magic-user levels. And he already has a castle with a map. Go nuts.


The Time Trapper.
Who is the Time Trapper? Click to enlarge...
"It is known that the Time Trapper dominates the wasteland of Earth in its dying millennia....He possesses great armies and weapons of power, the source of which are unknown"

And he looks like that. So you don't even need to change his costume.

He can age you or de-age you or send you through time or whatever.

Just don't remind him how things used to go back in the day.


Dr Fate When He's Bad
Dr Fate is what DC comics has instead of Dr Strange. He gets his powers from an ancient Egyptian helmet so naturally there are lots of stories where someone bad gets the helmet.
In a Keith Giffen miniseries he makes a demon mouth appear in mid air and projectile vomit raw eldritch plasm on Batman fucking killing him.In a Neil Gaiman future story the Fate helmet becomes all corrupt and old and vampiric and suchlike. It sits in a neoEgyptian temple being all...
...and then some idiot does and then Fate uses the poor bastard's mouth to deliver the following critique of Gygaxian cosmology: "Order. It's offal. Chaos. It's garbage. They were just different names for the same thing: The gurgle, ooze, purl and spurt of protoplasm, deluding itself that there's meaning. There is no meaning. Just the flesh. And death. And..." then the helmet sucks the life out of the guy wearing it falls to the floor and it lays there being gross.

Artifact or relic? Hmmm...

The Demon Bear that fought the New Mutants...

It's a demon. It's a bear. Need me to draw a map?

Shuma Gorath
Maybe Shuma-Gorath is cheating--the name is from RE Howard and the rest is pure Lovecraft, but there's something about the platonic tentacle-eyeball-nothing-else simplicity of old S-G that's terribly appealing. And why not give Gorath the same schtick as...

Starro The ConquerorNow, of all the possible individuals who might try to take over the world by having small duplicates of themselves climb onto everyone's face, Starro is maybe less my first choice than, say, Scarlet Johannsen, still, Starro is pretty cool.So cool I had a Starro attack the PCs at sea a couple weeks ago...

Marvel's Merlyn
In the case of Alan Moore's take on a manipulative, time-travelling, dimension-hopping Merlyn, a picture is worth a thousand words...
'

The Mindless Ones
They're big and tough and zap you and are from another dimension. Also they have no minds. Their "No. Appearing" figure is pretty grim.

Malekith The Accursed
What If... Robert Plant was a dark elf sorcerer in crazy warpaint who unleashed the Cask of Winters? Then you would be playing some excellent D&D is what. So enjoy that.

The Beast


Not not the blue guy who goes "Oh my stars and garters"--the creature from the Elektra: Assassin miniseries that's worshipped by ninjas and possesses people via evil milk. Also possessed of a fairly impressive traditional claw claw bite routine.

Mordru
There isn't that much that's special about Mordru per se--he's just another in a long line of beardy wizards--but that issue of Legion of Superheroes (the "Mordru-verse" issue) where he establishes complete Orwellian dominion over Earth using technomagical surveillance and controls all the other villains is pretty sweet.

Earth X Uatu
The gorgeous dysversal Earth X miniseries used Machine Man's origins in the old 2001:A Space Odyssey comic series as a backdoor to bring in a lot of visual references to Kubrick's film, but none more memorable than John Paul Leon's image of Marvel Comics omniscient, objective Watcher as a crippled, corrupt version of the 2001 Starchild collapsing under the weight of his own big smug overevolved head.

Ego, the Living Planet

Speaking of big heads. Got the All-My-PCs-Are-Level-20 blues? Have them fight a planet.

Klarion the Witch Boy
He's disturbing and so is his cat.


Etrigan The Demon + The Gargoyle

He's a duke of Hell, he speaks in rhyme and his soul is wedded eternally to an unfortunate scholar named Jason Blood. The only thing not totally D&D about Etrigan is his technicolor outfit...But that's easily fixed by saying he dresses like Marvel's similar-looking-but-less-cool-acting Gargoyle...

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Imagine A GM, Rolling On An Orange Chart. Forever.

If you click it, it will be bigger.

So, as I pointed out to back in that long Sandboxes And The Roguish Work Ethic post back in whenever I wrote it, one way to make a hero-centric sandbox is to have the heroes acting as revolutionaries in an oppressive 1984/WH40k/RIFTS-coalition/Handmaid's Tale/Animal-Farm-In-Gamma-World/Vecnacracy/Age-of-Apocalypse/Legion-of-Superheroes-Vol-4/Occupied France/Pretty Much Anywhere When The Mafia's After You/Ballardian Distopia horrible suckworld or otherwise metaphorical badplace.

Conveniently enough, there is an old module--Nightmares of Future Past--for Marvel Super-Heroes/FASERIP by Steve Winter, which has that exact concept as a premise. And, more importantly for me here today--it has a fun chart!

The chart is about the villains finding the party's hideout. They roll once a day.

It works in the following way:

Your baddies start in the middle column where I put some blue numbers.

The idea is the players have some sort of scrambly device protecting them from being found by the Mutant Detectors. The device can be good or crappy or great or whatever--the central column goes from "no mask" (that is, no protection device) all the way up thru Marvel's rank system Feeble, Poor, Typical.....up to Unearthly.

Side note: naturally you can sub in the rank system for whatever system you're using and sub in the antidetection device for whatever the PCs are using to conceal themselves. I have put in the d20 numbers. We can say they represent the Intelligence of the party member who designed the camouflage for the PCs base, or the stealth number of the party's thief, or the DC of the protection spells the wizard is using to hide everybody or...whatever. Just basically know that the best possible thing the PCs could pull off would get them up at the top and if they're like fuck it we don't give a fuck they're down in the No Mask box.

So you start each day with the fascists looking for our heroes. They roll on the appropriate middle-column box matching the level of the heroes' concealment on the first day. If they fail their roll, then that's a white result. If they get even (like they need to roll 6 or above and they roll 6) then that's a green result (I know, there's no green on the chart, chill--all shall be explained), if they succeed unequivocally that's a yellow result, and if they succeed like whoa that's a red result.

So you tick off the box where the villains are. If you get a white result, you follow the white arrow and tick over to that box. If you get a green result, you stay where you are. If you get a yellow result or a red, you follow those.

So you just moved to a new box. Rock on. That was fun.

The new box is interpreted as follows:

-Base Located means the villains bust in to the heroes' base.
-Start Over means you go back to the middle and start over. I know, you are indeed shocked and so glad I told you.
-Other Base means the villains have found some other revolutionary cell, not you. There'll be news of it that'll get back to the heroes.
-Tip-off means the Man has gone and done something which makes it obvious they're on the heroes' trail and so the party knows.
-Miss Target means the villains have just raided...an umbrella factory? A House of Pies? WTF? They hit the wrong place. It's funny.
-Event means--in the original--a whole list of various thingamavents that are interesting that could happen on Fascist Mutanthunt Earth. In the original it's like "Oh there's a mutant just escaped and being chased by Sentinels--do you help or not?" or "A bunch of Boy Scouts accidentally stumble on your base" et cetera. This is the place where you write a chart of events that are specific to your setting.
-All The Blank Boxes And All The Results Above 'Base Located' In the Central Column just mean nothing happened that day and the heroes are left to make their own trouble that day or you just go "Ok, Wednesday's quiet" and you tick over there and roll again the next day.

At any rate, after you resolve a box, the villains start there and roll again the next day from there.
____

In addition to this chart, Future Past suggests the brilliant and traumautizing idea of using the players' home town as the hellworld sandbox in question.

Now, on account of Google maps and streetview this is an even better idea than it was when the module is written. Hell, set it anywhere you want.
Ahhhh, Bushwick, I miss you. If you ever end up on this corner, run do not walk to Las Islas and get some chicken and rice and 2 of the orange ball things. Unless it's taken over by robot logiceater bad domination machines.

Now the only part left is to pick some local landmarks to serve as possible targets for your PCs' cell. Which of course they have to walk to while you click "forward" on Google street view. If there aren't like 9 zombie games on the market which suggest exactly this method I'll eat...I'll eat like some pasta.

_______

BUT WAIT THERE'S MORE

So I'm also thinking you could use this for a war. Basically, instead of the middle column representing just how well-concealed the party is, it could, in general, represent how close the party is to their target--Confederate Richmond or The Gates of Mordor or The Death Star or any other target. Instead of "Base Located" the box is "Your unit attacked".

Or just otherwise how conspicuous the PCs are, on a scale.

Like if you imagine the Shire-To-Mordor hexmap plus The 9 and the Orcs rolling on this chart every day, then you can pretty much model everything that happens in LOTR.

In effect, the Orange Fascist Chart functions as a kind of counterforce to a hexmap. The heroes explore or seek and the villains roam around the orange chart, making stuff happen.

Unlike just a straight d100 chart of events to roll on each day, it models the heroes' attempts to hide themselves a little better plus the villains' attempts to find them is dependent on how well they did the day before without a lotta math. Plus you don't have to think up all your events for the table at once, just having one event locked and loaded if you roll "event" is good enough. The rest takes care of itself.

That said, there's probably a way to model it pretty closely where you roll on a chart which has more results on it then the die has sides--add numbers if the PCs are well-hidden, subtract if they're not, add if the last roll was successful, subtract if it wasn't. etc. But hey, this chart's already here, might as well use it.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Call of Cthulhu Tips

Somebody asked and I got nothing better to do for a half hour, so here you go:

-You are not always going to get fear. Some players are capable of genuine fear while gaming. Most aren't. If you can't, don't worry about it. Fear mode is nice, but there is also Argento Mode, with sudden discontinuities and mayhem and panic. I recently ended a session with a player gently escorting a screaming cop into a hotel suite where Jez was fondling the toothed bosom of the wolfmother, Cole was on a bed with 3 dead naked teenage boys and Mandy was rolling a 01 maximum impale to fire completely blind ("I'm not looking, I'm not looking") at the first lady and save the world. That would be Argento mode.

-Fear mode looks like that.


-Do try to get an emotion. Disgust is pretty easy. You don't necessarily get emotions by thinking up brand new ideas so much as by describing whatever idea is there in enough sensory detail that people are actually imagining it. Tactile detail is probably the best. Like ok, there's the old Cthulhu statue and then there's You run your hand across the surface and it feels like--Have you ever run your hand across someone's skin in the morning? Like that--only also stone, like unaccountably warm. And bulbous, like tumors emerging. Just one emotion all night is ok.

-If you have someone capable of fear: run the game and start with any emotion you can get. Attachment to an object, liking an NPC, pride in the PCs accomplishments, whatever. If the emotion is negative (disgust, etc.)--good. If it is positive, sour it--have the enemy ruin it, brush it aside: "Your machines, your knowledge, they will not save you, your hope is hopeless" Most negative emotions are adjacent to fear. Just push them until they are fear.

(-And, of course, if you have someone truly fragile: then stop. Don't be a dick.)

-A scary thing: the familiar or otherwise comfortable thing suddenly being alienated from you. Your friends don't know you, your dog has no eyes, the human is not acting human, etc.

-Another scary thing: the skin is part of our immune system. Our first and most visible barrier. It is The Horror Threshold. Things that get past the skin, are under the skin or push through it, disrupt it, these things are horrible. If you can make players think about The Body it'll get you into The Mind pretty quick.

-Design the adventure with at least 2 powerful images. Just think of two things that interest you and are compelling. One is the first intimations of the horror, one is The Final Horror. Something fucked. You're good.

-Don't knock yourself out with the Mythos. You look up some mythos thing and you know what it'll tell you? Lovecraft mentioned it in 4 separate lines in 4 separate stories and each time it was some whole other thing. You know what Lovecraft would do? Make up something totally fucked up. Just do that. Worry about whether it's Hastur or Nyarlathotep later.

-Funny is good. Funny is great. In fact, let yourself laugh. Like sometimes if you are GMing you want to not laugh because you've got this adventure to run here but seriously, you do not have to Be A Fan Of The PCs, but be a fan of their players, and their jokes...

-...and their anything else they do right. If there is a phrase or image or line they come up with that is just perfect, say that. Stop the whole game and say that. In general: when anything cool is produced by players, encourage it. This has two effects: encouraging the player and showing everybody that its ok to go ahead and act--this activity will be rewarded.

-Try to remember who is insane. This can be hard, especially when the full mayhem is running:
Me: "Alright, the man with the leech face leans in, putting his face completely around your face and trying to sort of kiss you"
Guy playing a character based on his alcoholic Native American healer uncle: "Well, I'm still hallucinating, so..."
Me: "Yeah, right, so you are looking into his gullet and you see you are looking down into the coils of the great snake from which all of the world emerged in the time of the kicking rabbit and the blood clot boy and..."
Guy: "Well then I'm going to try to get _further in there_ "
Me: "Ok, so you grab it by either side and push your face into its mouth..."
And to think I would've missed it had he not reminded me...

-Likewise: try to remember who is on fire.

-SAN checks for seeing monsters and what all are gonna happen, but remember to run SAN checks for just mundane badness like seeing dead bodies and accidentally shooting civilians and suchlike sundry minor devastating incidents. Lose a few here and there once in a while. If you look at the stats for like a Nightgaunt, you don't necessarily lose that much SAN for seeing one--but of it's built on a bed of disturbing events...

-Purity has its limits. No matter what, Lovecraft stories aren't about 4 people. Definitely not about 4 people who are too terribly interesting. You're already not going to recreate a Lovecraft story. Just go for something good and twisted.

-The basic Hunter/Hunted structure can be bolted to almost anything. Even in the middle of an adventure. If the PCs are not moving toward the Horror, have the Horror move PCward.

-Things that make Call of Cthulhu easier:

*One insane PC does the work of a wandering monster. Essentially, when a PC starts getting jittery, play on it, use it to your advantage, that PC is the show now. Squeeze as much adventure as you can out of that PC.

*Everything is normal except the stuff you added in. In fantasy and SF you get an Oskar Schindler thing going on Oh with a little more effort you could've put something weird there and there and there. In a horror set up you just need a normal world. Just describe it creepy.

*Supernatural horror is pervasive: psychic emanations or dream echoes or what-all can pretty much account for any weird thing happening in the vicinity of the Horror. You don't need too much of a reason to have something strange happen all of a sudden.

*Stats are easy: Monsters therefore can be thought of as having hit points of 1 or 2 or 3 times human or 10 or whatever. The monsters have some chance to hit the PCs (60%, 70%) and some damage they do when they hit. Describing them and making them horrible and keeping them around just long enough that fucked up shit has time to happen while the players are encountering them is the key. In general, monsters have lots of hit points and don't dodge because they are implacable. But whatever works, really. Unlike D&D monsters, they don't have to actually be that mechanically tough for players to register them as dangerous or that mechanically interesting for the players to register them as interesting. Because it's the only monster in the game and you have essentially spent the whole game making them feel dangerous and interesting.

-It helps to have at least one person who will roleplay-as-in-act at the table. This lets other people know its ok and will be fun and not superfluous. In our session Cole did a great job of being the cop who was like: Well, I understand you are an indigenous person and you got your, uh, native medicine understanding of this, uh, Humbawamaba kinda thing and all I know is there's like a baby goat coming out of this guy and if you're telling me it's some kinda spiritual thing I'm with you because I ain't never seen that before. And then everybody sees that that's fun when the player acts and it lets them know its ok to do that and then it goes.

-Build the goddamn adventure around the way the goddamn players act and react. Horror is, basically, about a person with a personality and then a Horror that personality faces. Ripley and the Xenomorph, Rosemary and the Baby, The Torrances and Jack, the anxious Lovecraft narrator guy and Cthulhu. Everything between them (the physical set up, the plot) is just there to help dramatize that conflict. If the players reactions are giving you so much there isn't time for some structural device the adventure-as-written gives you, that's ok. Just let that happen. So long as you fit something horrible in before everybody goes home, it's all good.

-You can skip the resistance table--just roll d10+stat vs d10+stat for any contest or somesuch. BRP is an extremely robust system. Probably the most robust yet devised, you can fuck around with it and bolt all kindsa shit onto it and it still won't break--at least for human-scale conflict.

-Horror games have 3 parts: the parts where your PC investigates, the parts where you--the player--are scared, and the parts where you act. If your party is incapable of fear then the second part in the middle is a kind of acting (acting scared). Give players a chance to do all these parts and go with whichever ones seem fun for that group. All have an ability to shape the adventure, let it.

-I like to start with a picture, like in yesterday's post. Gets the PCs right into the scene and gives them the feeling there is something concrete to investigate. The "here's a bunch of guys" or "here's the crime scene" photo gives you a lot of details without you having to describe each one and trying not to lampshade the right detail by drowning it in a series of irrelevant details. Also, if you don't feel like you'll have words to describe The Horror when it comes, you can try to find a picture of that.

-Back of Cthulhu's head unwitting courtesy of this person.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Bacon and Eggs: A Chill of Cthulhu Production

So I ran a Call of Cthulhu game. Chill style. Meaning just I did Cthulhu modern but everybody had a psychic power (no S.A.V.E.).

But it's Cthulhu, therefore using your psychic power drives you slowly (or quickly) insane.

Simple and effective Chill of Cthulhu paranormal ability mechanic:

1. Dream up an Abnormal Psych Textbook style psychic power ( Scrap Princess took Pyrokinesis, Migellito took Psychic Being Convincingness, Cole took Tactile Postcognition, and Ian took Heat Metal)
2. When you want to use it, decide the percentage chance you want to try to succeed at. Roll under and you get to do it.
3. Then roll the same percentage you chose again to see if you lose d6 SAN on account of you just opened your mind to Forces From Some Fucked Place Your Head Goes When You Do That.

_____
This is the second time I've run this adventure--it's part of a 3-legged campaign my home group runs when the requisites are all in the same city at the same time. That version is non-psychic and 1920's. One of the players in that game is playing occultist, writer, cannibal William Seabrook.

_
Each version starts with the investigators on their way to (in the 20's) London, Paris or Berlin or (in the present-day) London, Berlin, or Tokyo.

_
The problem is the Poison Idea. If three people have the idea at any one time--Ragnarok comes. (Two people had it at once one time--that started WWII).

_
So after their dying uncle or psychic yoga master tells them to stop the idea from erupting the PCs pick a city from the 3 where it is feared the idea may manifest and go. They get on a ship or a plane, depending on time period and look at one of these 2 pictures.

Of these NPCs, some have information. William Seabrook got it outta them by asking around if there was a shipboard poker game. Cole got it by touching guy #7s chair and postcogging the vile presence within him.

Now Cole is, as anyone who has rolled with him will tell you, a great player. He is both irresponsible and proactive. Which is what you want.

Can I vomit on guy #7?

Ok, fail a Con check.

I succeed.

You just open your mouth for a second and hang there with your mouth open like this.

Meanwhile, in the restroom, Scrap Princess rolls a Maximum Impale to disarm the smoke detector and she then has the most relaxing possible smoke break.

Ian charms a stewardess and then--to create a distraction--decides to use his mind to melt, well, whatever instruments he could see when the cockpit door opened.

Is this group God's Gift To The Horror Game GM or what?

And Migellito tried and failed to keep everyone calm. He did however talk a little boy reading Lord of the Flies (#3) through Ian's post Sanity-loss screaming fit, so that was nice.

___

I like these psychic power rules--not a single monster, cultist or freak has appeared and already we have 2 insane players and are a luck roll away from a plane crash.
__

In the 1920's the London segment of the adventure involved kidnapping a patient of the Doctor With No Face, an ambulance race, and taking him back to the hotel to chop off his ear.

In twentytwelve it involved wearing fake moustaches, failing to pick a lock, and--most disturbingly--leaving Scrap alone in a hotel room.

So Scrap has a dream about an egg which her character doesn't realize is a dream (until Scrap reads this AP report). And decides to burn the hotel down.

Did I mention Cole thought guy #7 had eggs for eyes on the plane? Cole thought guy #7 had eggs for eyes on the plane, anyway....

Meanwhile the boys are at the hospital doing exactly what the girls were doing in the hospital around the same time in the 1920a--being in the basement of the hospital in The Terrible Revelation Room fighting a faceless nurse trying to inject them with Unknown Chemicals and thereafter a Doctor whose fragile eggshell face cracks open to reveal some fucked up horror movie stuffs inside and failing SAN checks and being around broken glass. The main difference was the girls brought shotguns.

Meanwhile Scrap decides to go to a bar a block away from the room he just signed into using his real (convict) name and then promptly arsoned.

Things progress on both fronts. We get to hear the following exchanges:

"I grab it by the tentacles and hit the guy in the face with the doctor's decapitated head."

"So you lose d6 SAN for using your pyrokinesis and then d6 more for using it to harm a human being"
"It's not a human being, it's a cop!"

We finish with a lone PC rolling initiative against everyone else in the back of an ambulance taking him away from two buildings he set on fire and toward one that his friends just did, from which unfortunate edifice two of our heroes are fleeing (one in terror, one because it is the absolutely entirely tactically correct and commonsensical thing to do) while our fourth hero staggers through the flames humming "I am the egg man, koo koo kchoo" and asking where the cafeteria is.

A fine, fine game is Chill of Cthulhu.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Do Your Dumb Thing

-The early draft of Huge Ruined Scott's Dwarfland (sample here) is very good. And I hope I am not making life too difficult for Scott by saying you should try to get your hands on the final thing the very second it is available.

-Other people impressing me regularly lately with Way Better Than Anything Published include:

Jasons at The Dungeon Dozen: Some of the stuff you'll go Ok, funny but a bit gonzo to contort my whole campaign to fit the lunacy here on account of I rolled a 4, but 50%-70% of the tables I have printed out, clipped up and scotch-taped them into my GM book because they are getting used and soon and repeatedly. (And yes I find that this is actually faster than using the fucking computer.)


Scrap Princess at Monster Manual Sewn From Pants (which title serves as well now as a metaphor for the best of the Old School Ruckus as it sometimes serves as a literal explanation of the content of the blog) who is now just fucking Planescape right up down and inside out enough that I now know exactly what levels 13+ are going to look like on a bad day. Scrap's Planescape stuff is so good I don't even read it. That's how good. What I mean is: when I check my email and the blogs and whatever in the morning, I don't read Scrap's entries, I save them for later and read them in one sitting with Dr Pepper and whiskey beside me like I read Heidigger or Biomega or otherwise actual literature. Like I have to wrap my mind around it. Like there is the exhaustion associated with actual thought involved.

-What I like best about Huge Ruined Scott's Dwarfland is that I look at each bit and go "That's great!". What I like second best is then I go "...and it's totally the opposite of how I would've done it". Only Gnomes and Dwarves? Fuck that. Cranky bellwhistle OD&D-specific mechanics? Fuck that. Limited classes and races. Fuck that. Standard spell list? Fuck that. Only in hardcopy format? Fuck that. Alignment? Fuck that. Same monsters over and over? Fuck that. Old-style format fetishism? Fuck that. And yeah though verily it thoroughly is totally rocktastical. And all those decisions I would not have made make sense and whatever I can squeeze out of Dwarfland is going to its own particular place on my map (I already have a convention assuming PCs are frequently "spirited away by elves" (roll on Pendragon elf-spiriting away tables) to explain Hollywood Attendance Lunacy in my group) (nested fucking parenthesis, see that?). So yeah anyway Dwarfland may be elfspiritingville adjacent or otherwise some kind of meta-answer to where PCs go when their player has a 8am flight to San F to do something for kink.com.


(And in Scott's case there's this great literary effect where you think you are reading Gygax for minutes at a time and then Scott comes around the corner and taps you on the shoulder. Like the way Jack Vance can trick you into thinking you're reading PG Wodehouse and then -pip- sardine-smack.

Specific rules and statistics for Dwarf-Land wargaming are beyond the purview of this supplement.

The Referee is welcomed to alter or disregard the rules variants herein as he sees fit.

Further game aids may detail other regions of the milieu, e.g., Elf-Land or the Empire of the Men of Zoob, but one is advised not to hold one's breath.)

(Compare and contrast with Geoffrey McKinney's deadpan approach to Early Gygaxian in Carcosa, where strict wargame prose is used to describeWait, What In Fuck? Seriously? The God That does what now?)

(Readers spotting other examples of skillful employment of The Ironic Yet Not Parodic Gygaxian Mode should leave them in the comments for use in a paper to be published 900 years from now when anyone cares.)


-What the actual point of that was, while I do indeed yammer on the subject of Make The Thing Useful and don't be a pointless Old School fetishist and nostalgia is dumb and boring, I also totally endorse the way Scott is putting Dwarfland together and think there is an important hair to split here. Scott asketh on his Blog:

Insofar as it’s possible, given the tools I’ve decided to work with, I’m going to make things concise and (hopefully) as well-organized as I can under the circumstances. But I know myself well enough to realize that part of the project’s appeal, to me, is the idea of creating my own “gamebook as artifact” (Trey’s term), with all of the self-conscious biting of the 1970s DIY aesthetic that entails. Hopefully that won’t render the manuscript completely unusable to folks who would otherwise be interested.

Thoughts?


And then right after that I got an email from some whole other guy asking "Hey I want to put something out, what kind of stuff would you be interested in seeing?" and then other people just periodically ask that. Now sometimes it's good to step outside yourself and go "Ok, I know shit works like this, but who else does, should I explain that?" and doing that gives you ideas, but primarily I think what I told Scott...

If you were a robot making me a product from scratch I'd go "Screw nostalgia, make a fucking product that's fucking organized so I can fucking find your fucking dwarf trait table when I fucking need it". But the fuel of this kind of (free) thing is love, (easy equation: you have more love=we get more product) so I think you have to love whatever you are doing and the way you are doing it enough to keep adding to it in ways that seem fun for you to get it to be as big and cool as possible. So, yeah, do it the way that seems most natural to you. You'll probably manage to build some new and interesting inventions on top of things you wouldn't have included without the fetishism. So if you have to stand on the shoulders of your own nostalgia to give us something new, I'm not gonna yell, "Hey, get down from there and get back to work!"

We can always clip out your lunacy and paste it in our ideas later. I'd rather have useless eccentric bullshit you put in there because you love it than less total cool ideas because without that stuff you just won't be excited enough to finish it.

Follow your dumb muse. You can always edit later.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Ummm..Possibly Awesome Superhero Game


So I have been thinking about the new Marvel Heroic Game and...(blah blah boringfastforward)...

...since I like the Panel-By-Panel action but not a lot of the other stuff, I came up with...

This Brand New Superhero Game System I Wrote In 15 Minutes

So here's Spider-Man:

Webs D10
Agility D12
Wall Crawl D8
Jokes D4
Spider Sense D4
Super Strength D8

Hit points: 8
_
Here's the Hulk

Jump D12
Super Strength with angry dialogue D20
Super Strength with angry dialogue D20
Super Strength D12
Super Strength D12
Invulnerability D20
Invulnerability D20

Hit points 40

(Why does he get some things more than once? Because PCs and villains have to have a decent number of schticks for reasons that will be clear below.)

(Evan made The Tick:

Going Sane in a Crazy World d4
Nighinvulnerable d10
Nighinvulnerable d10
The Most Powerful Engine of Destruction 1974 Had to Offer D10
Dumb Luck D8
The Wild Blue Yonder D4

9 hit points

I know fuck-all about The Tick )


_
So here's how combat works:

-Roll for initiative on d6, high roll gets to decide whether they wanna attack or defend.

-Attacker picks any of his/her schticks to attack with and describes how it's being used to attack, like, say Spider Man goes "I undermine the Hulk with a quip to make him lash out and hope his hand hits a live electrical wire" or "I web him up"--then rolls the appropriate die--a d4 for a joke or a d10 for webs.

Let's say he rolls a 3 on jokes. The d4 joke die is now put aside until someone takes damage or Spider Man uses all his other dice.

-Now the defender wants to roll over this 3--s/he picks any of his/her schticks and describes how s/he is using it to defend him/herself like "I use my super strength to grab him in the middle of his dumb quip" then rolls the appropriate die-a d12, let's say the Hulk rolls a 5. That super strength die is set aside until someone takes damage or the Hulk uses all his other dice.

-The higher roll means the defender (The Hulk) has resisted the attacker (Spidey), now the Hulk rolls to attack, picking any schtick: "I use super strength with angry dialogue--'Joke Make Hulk Mad Joke Smash Webby Man!' and the Hulk rolls an 18 and sets that die aside.

Now Spider Man can't beat an 18 with anything, he's going to have to take damage.

-Once an attack is not successfully resisted, damage happens like this:

The attacker picks a schtick to do damage with from their remaining dice and rolls--super strength again for the Hulk--10! "I bash his head into a barber pole", the defender does likewise--Agility-- "I move my head at the last second!" Spider Man rolls an 8.

Subtract--Spider Man takes 2 damage. If the Hulk had rolled lower than Spider Man then Spidey would've taken just one point. Either way, both the attacker and the defender retire the die they used just now for the remainder of the combat. Spider Man can't use his Agility die, the Hulk can't use that slot of super strength until they are done fighting.

If the Hulk rolled another 18 and there was again no die Spidey had that was high enough to resist it, he would still lose a die. Spidey could pick which die. Orrrr Spidey could use two or more of his remaining dice but they are gone out of the pool for the rest of the encounter.

These are called "exhausted dice".

-New round. Everybody gets all their dice back EXCEPT the one the Hulk used for damage on that last roll and the one Spidey used to resist on that last roll. Initiative again, it starts over.

-Unlike Heroic this system is completely story-driven. Nothing tactically clever your PC does in the fiction can possibly affect the combat more than anything else--like Reed Richards could build a Kryptonite missile and shoot it at Superman and you'd still have to roll on your Super Science dice vs his Invulnerability to do anything to him. You have to think like a comic writer every round--Oh, can't do that again, just did it. And it's fast. You just have to explain how you used your schticks one schtick at a time every round. We ran through a few rounds on G+ and it was pretty fun. A whole different thing from FASERIP, upon whose toes I do not want to tread even lightly, but interesting just because--holy fuck wind it up and it just works. Crazy shit happens every round and it's fun.

-There are rules for multiple opponents and interrupting people (Spider Man has an ally all of a sudden!) and for double teaming and running away and stuff but that's the bones of it, the rest you can check out...

IN THE GOOGLE+ PLAYTEST!!!!!

Which will be probably on Google+ Friday (today I guess) at 5pm Pacific 8pm Eastern.

You have to bring a superhero you made up using 46 dice points. What's that mean? Like you want a d12 in some schtick, you spend 12 points. You want a d4 you spend 4 points. It'll help to have at least 5 schticks.

You get 4+d6 hit points.

If you want to randomly create your PC use this and just ignore the points stuff. (Or, hell, use the points stuff and see how it works out--just don't make a high-level hero.)

(Official handbook of the Marvel etc readers may wish to note on super strength that d4 is like a normal human level person who can throw a decent punch, d6 is maxed out human, d8 is low superhuman, d10 is like Rogue--50 tons-ish or Incredible in FASERIP terms, d12 is like 75-85 tons like She Hulk or the Thing, d20 is 100 tons.)

Sign up for the playtest by hitting me up on G+. If you do it by posting a comment here, know that I am pre-emptively making fun of you.

Ha ha look at you, you can't read, go to space and have your head explode you not-readinger.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Called Shot Mechanic

Problem: in most kinds of D&D, the cooler the stunt you made up, the less practical it is to try to do it.

At least playing by the book.

Like:

"I want to cut the chain in mid-air so the morningstar ball goes flying"

"Ok, that's minus 2 for a called shot..ok, roll..."

______

Solution:

Naturally if you roll a natural 20 you do whatever awesome extra cool thing you were thinking you'd do, so...

Here's the deal: if you want to do something real specific--like hit the orc's torch and knock it on the floor, you can if you roll a crit. You can also extend your crit range as much as your heart desires: natural 19-20, 18-20, 16-20, all the way up to 11-20. Your choice.

The only catch is you then have to extend your fumble range from one by the same amount.

So you really want to knock the Necronomicon out of the cultist's hand? No problem, you want it on a 15-20? Ok. But on a 1-6 you trip and accidentally stab the baby he was about to sacrifice. Or yourself. Or your dad. Or whatever your DM's cruel little heart devises.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Satine runs a game...

<---(Satine shown here totally not in the middle of running a game) So my 5th level thief, Blixa, started life as a Warhammer PC. He then, through the magic of FLAILSNAILS Google + games, has migrated through the D&D retroclone Swords & Wizardry, then AD&D, possibly Mentzer red box-era D&D in there, Labyrinth Lord (another clone), Lamentations of the Flame Princess: Weird Fantasy, and now, for his greatest challenge ever, we took this 3d6-rolled-in-order schmuck and kitted him out with skills, feats and dailies so he can roll 4th Edition style (and his little dog, too)...

And--god help us--our girl Satine is the DM.

Actually Satine's been DMing a lot lately since she started organizing twice-weekly games at Meltdown Comics* but since I've been in another country all winter this was my first chance to actually go to the comic book store and see her do it. Some notes:

-Did you see that episode of Axe** where Satine lost her PC and was saying how she'd lost the last one 15 years before? You know how she lost that one? Hell hounds. You know what she had us fight? Hell hounds.

-4e's much-lauded balance relies on several assumptions, one being that your PC has 4e stats. Mine doesn't. He's got a 7 strength, 7 con and his best score is a 14 dex. I had to self-balance by trying as hard as possible never to ever do anything that required me rolling the dice. Which is exactly how I run Blixa in every other game. (Thieves suck) (Yet oddly this thief is one of the highest level FLAILSNAILS PCs.)(And people die like flies in those games.)(Go figure.)

-Satine's good at describing things as they happen "It explodes and there's a shimmer of light..." etc. and has an admirably relaxed attitude toward the Rules As Written. We're doing group initiative f'r'example. World hasn't ended yet.

-So I'm in a ring of fire, right? Because I brought flaming oil with me and these are ice hell hounds...

-Best 4e moment of the night: So all the other players are totally new to the game--this is their first campaign (and they're so sweet). This one kid is trying to shoot a hellhound with an arrow and decides he'll run so that me and my ring of fire are between him and the hell hound, then shoot an arrow through the flame, so it catches on fire on the way and then hits the hell hound. Excellent***.

-Worst 4e moment of the night: The brand new girl (the D&DMelt crowd is about 20% female) with her psion has seriously this 4 page character sheet and has to wade through it like a bucket of pint tar every round. Satine did a good job of priming the kids with "Hey you can do whatever you want, these are just some of the things you can do" but still, a 4e sheet is a lot to handle and poorly organized. And the fact that the online builder does it for you means the new girl wasn't along for the ride in making all these numbers happen so she doesn't remember them.

-Kinda What You'd Expect 4e moment of the night: The new girl finally finds the part of her character sheet where she can use her brain powers to make the hellhounds fight each other. Everybody is like Whoa, you're awesome! She seems much happier and more relaxed and pro-active once we're out of combat rounds.

-So there's one of those situations where you grab an NPC to interrogate and eventually--you guessed it--the NPC loses an ear. That always happens. Do you blame Tarantino or Lynch or do you blame ears? They look so cut-offable.

-The kids love Satine. It's cute. I hope they aren't traumatized when she kills them.

______________
*Hollywood geography lesson: Meltdown Comics, by dint of being in central Hollywood across from Guitar Center and also massive, is sort of the Hollywood funtelligentsia's front lawn, like you take the MGM executive you're trying to talk into producing your Alita Battle Angel movie to eat at Toi across the street and then go buy an Alita Battle Angel comic book so you can go "See she looks like this?" and then he goes "I get it, I get it...I'm seeing...Cameron Diaz?" and then you cry--with the much smaller and less vinyl-toy-infested Secret Headquarters in Silver Lake being more the same cohort's den/drawing room, like where you go to meet up with the other screenwriters and special effects guys and DJs and go "Cameron Diaz? I know, right, but I'm getting 9 figures just for the treatment so fuck it".

**There's currently some propaganda telling you to join the marines at the beginning of the video. Don't join the marines.

***Even if there's no way I would've let him do that. Unless maybe he coated the arrow in oil first. But hey, adventure is the aestheticization of physics

Saturday, March 10, 2012

I hate it when Moebius dies...

...there is, inevitably, immense ongoing metakarmic damage to the psychologecology for millennia. Eight kinds of tyranny become more likely and one usually happens, potentials slacken and they rot, machines use numbers to make movies worse, and children stop remembering their nightmares.










Thursday, March 8, 2012