Monday, January 30, 2012

Does. Not. Com. Pute.

Bart: Only geeks sit in the front seat. From now on you sit in the back row. And that's not just on the bus. It goes for school and church, too.
Martin Prince: Why?
Bart: So no one can see what you're doing.
Martin Prince: Oooh. I think I understand. The potential for mischief varies inversely to one's proximity to the authority figure. (He shows a note where he has written: MOC 1/PA)


Bart has something Martin does not. Social intelligence. Or what we might call, in this here D&Dish context, Charisma.

Bart intuitively grasps how to handle other human beings in such a way that he can accomplish his goal of fucking around on the bus.

Martin does not. Martin needs the rule written down.


People say "RPGing is a social activity" (by which they usually mean "Hey man, fuck you, I have a social life"). (And which is usually missing the point because they are arguing with someone who is not saying "you never talk to people" they're saying "you never meet new people".)(But that's a tangent.)

Yet, ironically, it is an often-overlooked fact that RPGing is a social activity as in, if you drew a big giant Venn Diagram circle called "social activities", pen-and-paper RPG GMing would be a circle entirely inside that circle (excluding maybe prep, but you get my point).

RPGing is a subset of social activities.

RPGing is a subset of social activities where people sit around talking to each other.

RPGing is a subset of social activities where people sit around talking to each other for like 2 hours or more.

Other activities in this category include: sitting at a big table at a wedding, going to a bar, having lunch with people, Thanksgiving dinner, Superbowl Sunday.

Which means: if you are with people who you wouldn't want to do any of these things with, there's no reason to assume it will be fun.

Counter example: Soccer.

I've played a lot of pickup soccer with a lot of people I don't know.
Me and 5 people pick up a ball. We go to a green field.

We meet total strangers, also five of them.

We play soccer together.

Soccer gets played. Easy.

There are few sources of potential conflict: if somebody fouls the other team, there could be trouble--we now have to start rolling charisma. If one team is more serious and competitive overall than the other, then we might have to resort to charisma rolls. But, in general, (19 times out of 20) the fun-ness of the game is not entirely dependent on how well we get on with the other team, since soccer isn't all about talking.
Usually it works fine.

An edge-case example:

Pac Man

It's just you and the electronic ghosts. You don't have to talk to them at all. Your fun is completely unrelated to how well you get on with people. However, as soon as you and the other person at the laundromat decide you are having a Pac Man Tournament and whoever gets furthest wins, part of your fun will depend on the chemistry between the two of you.


First point is: a huge part of what you do in an RPG is social interaction. If you get on with people and like them it can be a blast. If you don't, it can be ok, too--you can just concentrate on you versus the "ghosts"--but a part that could be fun is less so.


So alright, moving on:

A few days ago I have this conversation. This is with someone of a GameForgey/4e-fan bent who thinks D&D doesn't have enough rules:
(We are discussing the issue of Clever Plans That Fall Outside The Rules)

Forgey Guy:
It's really great when my coin idea works and it warns us of the tree elf's approach, but that relies on the DM (1) noticing the flag we're sending and (2) responding to it properly. That's a skill that takes years and years to develop, and even for a DM who has those skills, they still have off nights. So that approach means that the experience is unreliable. With an experienced DM at his best, it's a great game. With an inexperienced DM, or even an experienced DM who's tired or off his game, it's an exercise in frustration...
SomeForgeygame is a good example of how you can do this, actually. You don't need years of experience to play the ___ well. Even if you're inexperienced or having an off-night, the game's rules make sure that the game is reliably fun

It seems again like you're trying to insulate from bad GMing. This always makes a more restrictive game that attracts dumber people.

Someone Else Forgey:
He's not talking about bad DMing, he's talking about a difference of expectation between two players of a game. Neither one is being unreasonable.

Forgey Guy:
I'm asking for a reliably fun game experience. My experience with D&D prior to 4E was showing up each week hoping that this would be the week that it was good, and usually being disappointed. When it was good, it was so good I'd even put up with the 90% of the time that it was just frustrating. There are games that provide a reliably fun experience.

A good gm manages expectations. A good group thinks up adult ways to negotiate them

You said: a good gm manages expectations. a good group thinks up adult ways to negotiate them Why does it take so much skill to have fun playing this game that we need a good GM and a good group? Isn't that kind of the sign of a poorly designed game? Surely a good group and a good GM could turn even the worst game into a fun experience. The real test of a good game is whether or not it can deliver a fun experience, reliably, even with new players or poor players....

I'm saying that having to accept that a game might or might not be fun, depending on who shows up to play it, is an unnecessary evil.


Ok, Martin.

Do the math. Take people out of the equation. It can be done. Soccer is soccer even if I have no possible brand of communication with the other team.

And yes, there are very focused indie games (and, arguably, versions of D&D) which reduce the RPG experience down to "This game is About (huge word in dissatisfied-with-D&D circles) you being yellow and eating dots while ghosts try in turn to eat you. The other players may not jostle you while you eat ghosts, they may not place their quarters on the rim of the screen to indicate their turn is next, they may not hum The Bear Went Over The Mountain in your ear while you play though they may hum Row Your Boat, they may not declare they are 'going for fruits and not boards'."

In other words, they carve the social element of the game down to a reasonable little chunk and tell everyone what it's About so that nobody who doesn't know exactly what they are in for shows up at this party.

Which is fine. Which makes sense. I guess. If you're Martin.

The rest of us can play a wide open game where nobody at the table is sure what it will be about and just follow the Don't Be A Dick rule until you all decide what you want it to be about.


Ron Edwards calls this "Ouija board play". And disdains it. (Or did when he wrote whatever essay I'm remembering) He claims (and I believe him) to know a lot of folks--in real life--who regularly play D&D and don't have fun. I don't know any.

His old theory that each kind of player has one of a number of Goals and these determine what kind of games they can play seems to fly in the face of everything anyone who isn't Martin has noticed about people. They change what they wanna do all the time.

Some players show up ready to hit things--this is their to-themself justification for why they play this socially crippling game. But any player, given the smack and wobble of human interaction, can decide s/he wants to just sit and listen to someone else do a funny voice--or suddenly become intrigued by a puzzle, or suddenly decide they want to build a castle, or become enamored of the sound of their own silly voice.
Porn star tip!
Did you know?: People in social situations often do things they didn't come in intending to do and like it.
People who throw parties all the time know this. They have to clean up after it every 2nd friday.

This is because there has never been an illusion in anyone's mind about whether parties are a social activity.


I think, essentially, this social dimension terrifies a lot of people.

So there are all these games designed to route around the social dimension.

People who actually have a decent social circuit between them don't need a focused ruleset to tell them what to do:

When Kimberly Kane has realized that the group's Exploration of Setting is maybe interfering with her Metagame Goal of Exploring Goblin Guts you go:

"Well left or right, KK?"
"Uh..."(vague hand wave, eye roll)
..and everyone knows where KK is at.

Whereas Craigie T, experiencing the same frustration, might say

"Hurry up with the Harry Potter business, McCormick, I wanna kill shit!"

And we laugh and the players Ouija the game around and it works fine and everybody plays whenever they're off work and have 2 spare hours forever and we are happy.

That is the key here: Successful DIY D&D requires that internal conflict be resolved--or avoided--by at least a few people at the table being able to organically divide their attention between What they wanna do right now and What their friends want. This may sound exhausting, but it is also the basis of almost all successful human social interactions up to and including all the most fun ones, like going to the zoo or bowling or banging mad crazy hot sluts.
So, Martin, yes, you can chop down an RPG until it is like a pick-up soccer game and nobody has anything they have to do but get the ball in the box and nobody has to deal with anybody not being exactly into their kind of fun because if they weren't they would not have showed up to play Bianco: The Game About Being A Llama Who Attempts To Nuzzle Mice Using An Innovative Social Combat Mechanic Based On Wicker in the first place.

And it will be as reliably fun as darts or checkers. You play with your eye on the board and not ever worry about what the other human being wants.

When it is over, it will have been about what you expected it was going to be about and everyone will have been creative in the direction they were expecting to be creative and the game will totally have been satisfyingly About the desired Theme.

Or you can open the game up a little into the realm of WTF Will Happen Tonight that people have been profitably enjoying for 40 years--but then--I'm warning you now--the game becomes more of a social activity.

Will it be fun?

If you are good with your peoples, yes.

Will it be fun with strangers?

Well would you engage in any social activity requiring 2 hours of sustained conversation with strangers and assume it'll be fun?

It's a crapshoot:

Like those tables full of weirdoes at weddings, the first day of school, the first day at work, the bar on the corner and like going outside in general. Scary, I know.

Rereading this before posting it, it seems like I might be suggesting the only reason people play Forgey games is out of fear of social negotiation. Obviously that isn't true. A lot of people like just playing a different kind of game. All the stuff in this could be said of 4E as well--it is a focused design made to simplify the social interaction--but people who want to play it don't necessarily want to just because they are socially inept. I myself have played and enjoyed 4e on occasion, as I repeatedly remind very stupid people. (I see you linking to this page, dude, I see you pretending it says something it does not say.)

The point is just: any critique (from any party) of Old School games on the score that they don't have enough rules (for social combat, for DM adjudication of outside-the-box contingencies, for regular combat) is bullshit. They may not have enough rules for you. But you're you. We aren't.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Now That's A Monster Entry

They are called MONKEYS (Simia) in the latin lan-
guage because people notice a great similitude to human
reason in them. Wise in the lore of the elements, these
creatures grow merry at the time of the new moon. At
half and full moon they are depressed. Such is the nature
of a monkey that, when she gives birth to twins, she
esteems one of them highly but scorns the other. Hence,
if it ever happens that she gets chased by a sportsman
she clasps the one she likes in her arms in front of her,
and carries the one she detests with its arms round her
neck, pickaback. But for this very reason, when she is
exhausted by running on her hind legs, she has to throw
away the one she loves, and carries the one she hates,

A monkey has no tail (cauda). The Devil resembles
these beasts; for he has a head, but no scripture (caudex).

Admitting that the whole of a monkey is disgraceful,
yet their bottoms really are excessively disgraceful
and horrible. In the same way, the Devil had a founda-
tion when he was among the angels of heaven, but he was
hypocritical and cunning inside himself, and so he lost
his cauda-caudex as a sign that all of him would perish
in the end. As the Apostle says: 'Whom the Lord Jesus
Christ will kill with the breath of his mouth'.

'Simia' is a Greek word, meaning 'with squashed
nostrils'. Hence we call monkeys this, because they have
turned-up noses and a hideous countenance, with wrinkles
lewdly puffing like bellows. It is also said to be a charac-
teristic of goats to have a turned-up nose.

Cercopitheci1 do have tails. These are the only ones
to be discreet, among those previously mentioned.

Cynocephali2 are also numbered among monkeys.
They are very common in Ethiopia. They are violent in
leaping and fierce in biting. They never get tame enough
not to be rather ferocious.

Sphinxes' also are reckoned as monkeys. They are
shaggy, defenceless, and docilely ready to forget their
wild freedom.

1 Aidrovandus says that the English is 'marmuset'.

2 The Baboon, the dog-headed ape, possibly the Egyptian god Anubis.
According to Gesner, the sphinx is a real monkey, and the Sphinx of art,
woman in front and lion behind, is merely an imaginary representation of
it made by painters and sculptors. Perhaps he is not so wrong in this as he seems.

At any rate, the Guinea Baboon is called a sphinx to this day.

A note on fabulous animals will be found in the Appendix.

From Bestiary: A Book of Beasts by T.H. White

Well worth it and all on-line here courtesy of the University of Wisconsin.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Secrets Of The Chill Master Revealed!

So where was that mystery passage from?

Guesses have included: Roberto Bolano, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Carlos Castaneda, and Thomas Pynchon pastiching one of the above.

Actually it was from Terevaldo Roberto Flechero L'unares' second novel.

Now Terevaldo Roberto Flechero L'unares is not merely an author of fiction, but (Borgesially enough) a fiction himself: an imaginary author whose work appears in the Vampires supplement for 2nd Edition of the horror RPG Chill.

Which is to say that passage was actually written by either Gali Sanchez or Drake Mallard, the authors of said sourcebook.

More to my point today, this passage pretty much encapsulates 2nd ed Chill.

On the one hand: it's kinda good, isn't it? Like it isn't maybe mad genius, but the ideas and execution are not just at "frustrated novelist" (which is like what you're called at 0-level if your class is Game Designer) but actually maybe even buzzing hummingbirdally up near "actual novelist".

I mean, it could give you genuine nightmares. And I love the bit about the transistor radios.

On the other hand: What the fuck does all this humid glitterball poetry have to do with a game, Chill Vampire Sourcebook?

And therein lies the glossy black vein of pre-White Wolf retropretension that is Chill 2e. Copyright 1990 and looking every inch of it. If, in looking through it, we can undeniably ascertain that it is not only Retro (now as it was not then) and Pretentious (as anything subtitled "A Scary Game For Scary People" could not hope to not be), but also Stupid, then we will know that Chill is perfect.

-Cover: Color pencil drawing of threatening version of masky Montreal opera clown in blue and orange instead of the traditional purple and pastel. Beneath ransom note.

-I like the layout of the table of contents: it reminds me of the menu for an upscale Washington DC restaurant where they have wrought-iron chairs out on the patio and an awning in racing green and all the drinks have olives in them.

I mean, fuck off if you want to know which of the 43 pages under "character generation" contains the 'taxi driver' career, but it looks nice.

-Quote from some made-up author named "Robert Davidson" who is not HP Lovecraft about the nature of fear. (Not-being-Call-of-Cthulhu is a major theme of Chill. As is Vampire The Maskthingy not existing yet.)

-Another aspect of Chill: artists who are almost Bill Sienkiewicz but not. More than one. Though one of them has a side of not-exactly-that-Hollywood-caricature-guy-who-works-his-daughter's-name-into-everybody's-face next to his Sienkiewiczwich.

-Beginning of the book: "If you've never played a roleplaying game, or if you haven't read the 32 page Introductory Insert in the back pocket of this book, you'd better stop reading now." (emphasis fucking mine). 32 pages is half of Vornheim. 32 pages is longer than Vault of the Drow. 32 pages could get you introduced to most of Western philosophy and all of Greek cuisine and still have room for house ads. Anyway fuck me because this pdf doesn't have it. But boldly I soldier anyhow...

-"Now that you’re ready to begin, you’ll probably want to know what’s in this CHILL book. Well, hang on to your. .. dice! We’ve got brain worms. We’ve got gorillas. We’ve got scientists, yetis, and monkeys. Thieves, mystics, and reporters. Gazelles, bears, and alligators. And, of course, flies, rats, mummies,werewolves, name it!"

First: "hang on to your...dice!" Hah, we fooled you! You thought we were going to say "hat"!


Second: Isn't this suddenly sounding like a Hellboy RPG?

-"The second section of this book contains the mechanics of the game: both the players and Chill Master (CM) should read up on..."
Yes, that's right, if you're running this game, your players have to call you The Chill Master. Which is ok by me because that's what everyone calls me anyway.

This guy is totally The Chill Master.

-Like Cthulhu, skills are on an easy-to-grasp 0-100 scale. (Knowing you have photography at 45% tells you a lot more than having photography at +3. +3? Is that good? Is it like Lois Lane good or William Eggleston good?) Unlike CoC and its Chaosium Basic Roleplaying ilk it also has ability scores (strength, health...) on the 0-100 scale. While this has a pleasing surface simplicity and many a CoC or Runequest player mayhap has wondered why their system didn't do the same thing, the gears grind a bit when you do it this way, as we shall soon perceive...

-The basic abilities chosen seem pretty well picked for a horror RPG--Dexterity is like fingeriness and Agility is like jumpiosity and then Luck, Perception, Personality, Stamina and Willpower. You can instantly think of situations in horror movies where any of these things matters. No "intelligence", which I do hope is a nod to "player-skill-not-character-skill"

-Willpower is a depletable stat, like hit points. This is not quite as nice as Sanity Loss in CoC but the idea has legs.

-Some dipshit named 'Rax' who is, I believe, never identified is periodically quoted talking like Eddie from Iron Maiden and going on about lickspittle and mantasting and generally failing to scare me.

-The crippling late-Silver-Ageness of the system comes into play with skills: first of all, the base number for each skill is often some derived crunch nightmare of mixed ability scores (Climb is the average of your agility, perception, stamina and strength f'rinstance), second of all the system doesn't have just pass/fail, with fumble and impale for rolling really high or low, it also has a degrees of success system: Low Medium High Colossal.

Dig the madness--"T#" stands for "target number" (usually like 45 if the skill is at 45):

The following chart summarizes results of Specific Checks:
L result =T#through (T#-tens digit) +IM result = tens digit through (T# t 2) + 1
result = T#t 2 through tens digit + IC result = I through tens digit
And on top of that, the target numbers are variable to begin with. So you don't just go "you have to pass a check at minus 20", but "you have to pass a check at minus 20 and then get higher than an 8th of the tens digit plus a 4th of the twelves digit and fuck is this math really easier than just going HEY THE BETTER YOU ROLL THE MORE INFORMATION YOU GET OUT OF LITTLE SALLY ABOUT THE BAD DOLL THAT TRIED TO STEAL HER HAIR, JUST GM IT YOU FUCK"

-Oh and why is it bad to have the ability scores on the same 0-100 scale as the skills in this here modern skillheavy system?

"Using The Skill List:
The CM must be familiar with the following list of (like 80) skills to prevent players from using simple Ability Checks to allow their characters to perform actions that require skills"

So while yes, it is as crunchily satisfactory as a Snickers to have your Martial Arts score actually related to your Strength and Stamina scores (unlike in CoC)--actually getting all that math to work together is harder than it might seem. Either character generation is long and mathy (Runequest), skills are always higher than associated ability scores and quickly reach superhuman (any "+1" system), or some other weirdness. Skill-based systems claw at the soul.

-The lack of a straight-up Intelligence stat makes the ability-derived skill system a little wonky, too, like your Art Criticism skill is derived from Perception and Willpower. Though, honestly, having done a bit of it I can see that: must...look at..terrible...Felix...Gonzalez...Torres...sculpture before..deadli...zzzzzzzz.

-Almost every skill has a special spell-like mechanic attached to it. The bowfire rates are under the bow skill, f'rinstance. Explosives have an even-odd result on top of the degrees-of-success result. Okay, I like that one.

-So anyway point is clunky.

-The scariness advice in the GM section is excellent, though. Every Halloween somebody asks me how to write a scary adventure, it's all here: Isolation. Mystery. Reversal. Tease. Fuck with sensory information. Unexpected sound effects.

-(Well almost all, here's another tip: Find an emotion adjacent to fear--dislike, anxiety, disgust, confusion, etc.--and worm your way in from there.)

-Interesting/surprising highlights in the (basically unarguably classy and extraordinarily tasteful and loaded with stuff like Dracula and Rosemary's Baby) recommended reading/viewing section include:

Doom Patrol (and the rest of the DC Vertigo line--so maybe this was just because Mayfair was also publishing the DC Heroes RPG)
Grendel (the comic book)
Blood (Epic Comocs)
Creatures on the Loose (Marvel Comics)(notable to me because I have never heard of this comic. You know how I often I go "I have never heard of this comic?" Not often.)

Not Present for Predictable But Still Kinda Funny Reasons:

H.P. Lovecraft

-But are the monsters good? Yes, here's the Mean Old Neighbor Lady:

If the child escapes and returns home, he finds to his terror that his parents do not recognize him and return him gladly to the neighbor lady who comes asking about her “nephew who’s visiting from out of town.” “I’ve been worried about the little tyke,” the creature explains, “because of that wild imagination.”
The creature keeps the child in the darkness of the cellar, taunting him with playthings that “you can’t play with because you’re bad,” starving the child, and threatening to send the dog down into the cellar if the child cries or makes any noise. The child’s Willpower sinks from fear and hunger, until at the equinox (mid-March or mid-September), the neighbor ladv completes it wicked act by using the Minion Discipline: the child becomes a gamin, and is released to wander into nearby homes, where it begins its evil game of “murder.”
-..1)Although the creature does not suffer normal
physical damage, it does take wounds from eggs
used as thrown missiles.

-And then there's Puppet People: made of wood, with a thin covering of flesh and they always hunt in pairs "The origin of these perverse creatures remains a mystery; all that is known for sure is that they are nasty and incredibly ignorant."
-And, of course Werejaguars. What a wonderful word. Werejaguar.

-CoC is a horror game and Chill is a horror game and any game can be played in any way but the basic form of conflict suggested in both the rules and modules for purist Cthulhu is: investigate investigate be confused investigate MEETTERRORYOU'REINSIGNIFCANTGoINSANeDIE. Whereas Chill 2e--while not as Universal Horror as the first edition, is much more cinematic than Cthulhu. It is about the PCs. They can win. They are interesting and maybe psychic. But then so are the monsters. It's a dance. It's more of Silence of the Lambs thing, more of a back-and-forth...
When I think about making a D&D character I think about a bundle of stats who will one day turn into guy I am going to have to learn to like, when I think about making a CoC character I think of someone who would be fun to see go crazy, when I think about making a Chill PC I think about how this guy is my fucking vampire hunter in my vampire hunter movie.
-(One could posit that the White Wolf products push even further in the DC-to-Marvel scale into it's-all-about-you-and-how-very-interesting-you-are-and-the-world-is-dull.)
-If I was going to play a Chilly game today here is what I would do: use the CoC system, throw in The Art (Chill's psionic-PC powers) (just let people pick or roll randomly for 1-2 powers) and call it done. The rest is just writing the scenarios. "Your car breaks down on an abandoned stretch of road"

Tunnels & Trolls DONE DIRT CHEAP!

This happened on Google +.

You kinda have to read the whole thing to get the full effect. Most names have been removed to protect the innocent and the guilty.

Zak S

It's always been weird to me that in Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap the guy goes "Concrete shoes, cyanide, T&T". I would've figured them for Runequest guys.
- Comment
+7 -


(Somebody) - Tunnels and Trolls much easier to play when drunk
Yesterday 6:55 PM +2

Zak S - ..and upside down--they're Australian.
Yesterday 6:56 PM - Edit

(Somebody) - and when they roll dice they spin in the opposite direction
Yesterday 6:56 PM +1

(Somebody) - its true we Australians can stand on our hands for days at a time
Yesterday 6:57 PM

(Somebody) - I could definitely picture Bon Scott as being a Runequest fan, but the rest of the band definitely strike me as more of a T&T kind of crowd.
Yesterday 7:06 PM

(Somebody) - On a vaguely related note... Palladium's TMNT "Mutants Down Under". It hasn't aged gracefully. Racial slur on opening page. 0_o
Yesterday 7:14 PM

(Somebody) - Was it the accents?
Yesterday 7:14 PM

Yesterday 7:14 PM - Edit +1

(Somebody)- I know, it's freakin' awesome, isn't it? I love that book.
Yesterday 7:16 PM

(Somebody)- The Palladium Fantasy book "Adventures in the Northern Wilderness" also has some kick-ass Eric Talbot artwork. Siembieda had a good eye for artists back in the day.
Yesterday 7:19 PM (edited) +1

(Somebody) - I figured they'd watch more TBS than anything...
Yesterday 7:23 PM

(Somebody) - I've never actually played T&T. What about it is a "dirty deed"?
Yesterday 7:27 PM

(Somebody) 40 bucks! That's hardly "dirt cheap"
Yesterday 7:32 PM

(Somebody) I must now ask for the name of the BEST illustrated book in the history of RPG's that also has punk uzi kangaroos in it.
Yesterday 7:35 PM

(Somebody)T&T free/lite:
Yesterday 7:35 PM

(Somebody)He's saying "Thunder Chief". Now that's rock and roll.
Yesterday 7:42 PM

Zak S - 3o thieves and the thunder chief. Best illustrated? the 2 volumes of Realms of Chaos: (Slaves to Darkness and The Lost and the Damned) for the original Warhammer
Yesterday 7:55 PM - Edit +1

Ken St. Andre - I love that song, Dirty Deeds--Done Dirt Cheap! Never made the T & T connection before. Hey, you should tweet that comment, or let me do it. :)
Yesterday 8:01 PM

(Somebody)"Thunder Chief" is totally RuneQuest.
Yesterday 8:03 PM

Zak S - Tweeted!
Yesterday 8:13 PM - Edit

(Somebody)For me, G+ has totally bumped Twitter lately.
Yesterday 8:19 PM

(Somebody)Is that some of euphemism y'all kids use now-a-days?
Yesterday 8:20 PM

(Somebody)YOu can blow up a lot of tunnels w/ Trinitrotoluene
Yesterday 8:24 PM

(Somebody)It works using the literal definition :-)
Yesterday 8:25 PM

(Somebody)In that the Google building has literally collided and struck the Twitter offices?
Yesterday 8:28 PM

(Somebody)OED: "North American - displace from a job, especially in favour of someone else: she was bumped for a youthful model "

Or maybe I am young! /clicks heels/
Yesterday 8:32 PM (edited)

(let's call him "David")- Man, "T&T" had some infantile spell names...
Yesterday 8:59 PM

Zak S - Them's fightin' words.
Yesterday 8:59 PM - Edit

David- "Glue-You", Smith!
Yesterday 9:02 PM +1

(Somebody)- There's nothing infantile about playing pretend!
Yesterday 9:05 PM

David - True...but there are levels. I've heard the game itself is solid but "Yassa Massa"? Really?!?
Yesterday 9:10 PM (edited)

(Somebody) - Oh dear! :-D
Yesterday 9:11 PM

David- From the T&T 1st edition: "Yassa-Massa! To be used only on previously subdued monsters / foes. Total strengths I.Q. & Charisma. Will permanently enslave monsters with ratings lower then the above total." Amazing...
Yesterday 9:13 PM

(Somebody) It was the 70's, ROOTS (1977) was a real popular TV mini-series & Book(1976)! ... the seventy's was a different world; not so quick to judge: I don't think it was meant to disparage. It was in the mass psyche of the times. ;0)
10:52 AM (edited)

David: I know, I was a child of the Seventies. That still doesn't prevent me from wanting the ask the designers: "What the f#@$ were you thinking?!?!"
11:47 AM

Zak S - Go ahead and ask, the designer is right here on g+ and his name is right in front of you
5:29 PM - Edit +1

David- Kens st andre? On G+? where? WHERE??
10:50 PM

Zak S - Look up.
11:00 PM - Edit

David - Holy crap!!! I'll just be over here keeping my mouth shut...
11:07 PM (edited)

Zak S - Laugh
11:11 PM - Edit +2

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

How To Keep Keep Simple Combat Interesting

Oddysey does a great job here of explaining how just because D&D has a lot of rules for combat it doesn't mean it's about combat.

She touches on something which you hear a lot from newies raised on WOTC D&D which is: well isn't combat without all the feats and ninjitsu dull?

Initiative. Roll to hit. Damage. Roll to hit. Damage. Initiative.

No it is not. But, and this caveat goes for all Old School D&D: you have to have a good DM. Oh well.

Let us say you would like to be one of those good DMs? How do you make simple combat interesting?

Get yourself a simple combat-moves system.

Want to trick the catpegasus into charging the wall? I use d10 + stat vs. d10 + target stat. High roll wins. Other people might just use chances on a d6. If you trust your DM to come up with fair chances, these systems are nice and easy and fast. If you do not, do not play role playing games and make gingerbread cookies instead and then mail them to me so that I can eat them while I GM well.

Monsters love grabbing people.

Monsters are the grabbiest!

Roll to hit. Target number is as if for a touch attack or dex-as-(ascending)-ac. Success means target is grabbed. Less damage is done than usual but the target is still grabbed and can be hurt at will next round unless they do something about it.

Or their friends do--which isn't that hard, since their friends should get a +1 or +2 for trying to hit the monster while it is busy trying to rip their paladin in half. Unless it has like 20 arms...

Monsters Love Throwing People

Especially at other people.

Monsters Are Smart

Do your PCs use hit-and-run tactics, heal a lot and shoot from cover? Well so do the goblins.

They also hate your party's cleric above all other foes.

Monsters Are Dumb

Monsters (like players) often don't just sit back, look at their ability scores and go "Hmmmm...what't the most effective attack I could make?" they go "Gah! Shiny man hit Gorg! Gorg mad!"

Just saying, in a combat, "Well since Caroline keeps whaling on him, he's definitely going after her" both adds a little texture to the encounter and reminds the PCs they are acting in a cause-and-effect world.

Try To Use Your Half Of The Combat To Change The Tactical Situation Every Round

There are lots of things you can do that are mechanically identical to roll-to-hit-AC, roll-damage that nevertheless move people around and mix things up. If the bear hits the thief, see if the thief tumbles back and knocks a torch off the wall. Then roll to see if leather armor is flammable. Then roll to see if bears like the smell of cooking thief more than they fear fire.

Make The Tactical Set Up Interesting To Begin With

Pool of water, fireplace, ledge, multiple exits...if you are making a dungeon, put the monsters next to something they or the PCs can use to their advantage.

Use The Die Rolls

Take fumbles and crits and use them to complicate the situation:

If someone rolls a 20 you are totally allowed to go "Ok, hold it, lemme think..." and take a second to imagine that if the vampire was about to bite the ranger and the wizard rolled a 20 to throw the holy water than that probably means the vial of holy water went right into the vampire's mouth and so the vampire has a throat full of holy-water-covered-broken glass going on.

If someone rolls a 1 while charging the lizard man this means s/he's charged right past one, tripped over a lizard tail and landed in the pile of lizard eggs. Oh they are terribly upset now--but they don't want to break the eggs either...

Monsters Make Noises

A strangled gargling sound can go a long way, I find.

If you ever feel like breaking your players' hearts--have Orc A suddenly say Orc B's name as Orc B is dying. The effort-to-effect ratio is staggering.

Fear of Death Is The Mother Of Invention

This is standard OSR cant but it's true: a scared player is a thinking player.

If You Have To Say "No", Explain Why

Sometimes a player has an awesome plan and it should work. Sometimes a player has an awesome plan that is not going to work and why this is so would be clear to their PC.

Explain why it won't work in enough mechanical detail that the parameters of the problem are clear. "We need something stronger than silk, hmmmm...."

Recap Continuously

"Ok, you're grappling the plover, you have one leg in its mouth and you are in the lava" Players are easily confused in the hurly burly of the speedy exchange of blows.

Everybody knows a good DM narrates combat, but remember sometimes you just have to say it all again so that everybody is always in it.

Is It Easier Than Backstabbing?

This is standard: A thief gets +4 to backstab an opponent who doesn't know s/he's there. Basically any bonus that you give players or foes in combat should use this as a baseline: is this easier or harder than backstabbing some goggle-eyed cluelacker?

If You Can Remember It, You Can Have It!

You want to keep things moving.
"Is it d6 or d8, can't remember...."
"Well I'm telling you it's d6 since you didn't write it down"
Next time they'll write it down. In big red letters.

Relax, You Can't Do It All

(DM Energy + DM Attention) Divided By (# Of PCs + # Of foes) is a limiting factor here. Sometimes you just have to go "12? You miss. Next!" and move on to something you can do a little more with.


P.S. Answer to yesterday's Latin American literary mystery is coming, be patient.

Name That South American Magical Realist...

Can you guess what novel this is from?
Or the author?

Then over the zocalo Don Roberto would fly through the many-layered and fabulous night, changing the frequency of the townspeople’s transistor radios...

This time, when Don Roberto entered the glitterball, the two men smoked cigars, and Don Roberto told Josue Maldicho about the tower and its lancet windows, a tower indeed so tall that it was said that the servants aged unspeakably climbing the stairs that led from its cellars to the large, muraled study at its pinnacle. The mural depicted the history of the region, so delicately crafted that once, when Don Roberto spilt wine on the eastern wall, he had to use great speed and diligence in cleaning up the accident: had he not, the volcano called ”La Malinche” would never have existed. So it was that the younger servants worked on the ground floors, the middle-aged on those floors of the tower which lay only slightly above the cloud cover, and the aged where the air was so thin that only those who had faded, who needed less than before in their diminishing lungs, could survive. Don Roberto, of course, ate, slept, and lived on the floors above his servants. ”The stratospheric Don,” whispered Josue Maldicho with reverence, as brilliant parrots, conures, and jandayas disguised slyly as parakeets joined in chorus above the zocalo-a chorus that agreed with Maldicho, if not in reverence: “Yes, the stratospheric Don.”

”You flatter me,” disclaimed Don Roberto, the end of his cigar glowing in the darkened interior of the glitterball, its smoke rising invisibly through the gaps between the mirrors and into the air above the zocalo, where it rose toward the moon, passed through several time zones, and dispersed in a country where the dogs laugh, where solid architecture is valued, where the stars bowed in magnificent homage, and the years turned under.

Monday, January 23, 2012


Once upon a time this blog had zero followers. Assuming you are reading this before the end of all things, it probably now has more than that. Here's a highlight reel for anybody who might've jumped in mid-stream.

WTF is This Blog?

Our TV Show (episode 18 is the best, they let us kinda do what we wanted starting around episode 5, the ones starting at 8ish are the most popular)
Yeah, We Were In Maxim
The "players" tag has all the articles about the girls themselves
The "actual play" tag has all the actual play reports
I did Red & Pleasant Land which is a very well-regarded game book
Likewise Vornheim
I also did the deluxe rewrite of the DIY D&D classic Death Frost Doom
These three things are available here.
New one, Maze of the Blue Medusa is available here.
Most of the other stuff I invented for my D&D setting that's up on this blog is indexed here.
I have a new horror game I'm writing and drawing here, if you wanna see it finished chip in to the Patreon here.


Most of our daily RPG conversation goes on here on Google+, send a message that you want to be added.

How I Want To HearAbout Your Setting

Dwindling (a good thing about crunch)

Allegedly funny

Cathedral of All-Flesh (A dungeon)

Galleries of the Nyctites (A slightly bigger dungeon)

20 Pirate Queens

Search-And-Replace Dungeon (A sort of Mad Libs dungeon)

Some rules & DM tricks I use and, sometimes, why I use them:


Saturday, January 21, 2012

The "I Call On My Years Of Training" System

Once per day a PC may say "I call upon my years of training!" and thereby add his/her level to any ability check involving a task characteristic of his or her class or race.

This can only be done once per day no matter how many different kinds of class-appropriate challenges come up that day.

The maximum is + 1o. (10 total including ability score bonuses, if you're using a DC system). After 10 you get to do it twice a day and split the bonus numbers however you want.


Scruffy The Bandit and Muppet the Sorceress want to try to interpret the hieroglyphs in a dusty old codex. Scruffy has to roll an Int check (at -8 or at a DC of 18, because the DM says so). Muppet also has to roll an int check (also at -8 or at a DC of 18, because the DM says so) however, Muppet may choose to call on her vast sorceressy training to do this and thus can add +5 since she is level 5.

If, later that day, they come upon an obscure alchemical substance, Muppet is out of luck and has to roll like everybody else, as she's used up her training bonus for the day.

If she was level 13, she could add 5 and bank 8 for later that day or add 10 and bank 3, or whatever, up to 10.

Optional extras:

-If you are including thief functions in this, thieves do it all the time--not just once per day--up to +10 total (including any ability score bonuses, if you're using the DC system). Edit: In an old-school system, this means the standard array of thief abilities tops out at +10, so this requires a further hack--maybe at this point the thief starts being able to dip his or hands into other classes' skill pools. Like how they can start to read magic or whatever at a certain point...

-If you want to use it with a whole skill system, then just modify the rule so it says "Once per day a PC may add his/her level to any single ability check involving a skill s/he has"

...and otherwise skills don't do anything.

-This whole system probably doesn't apply to saving throws. But consult your GM

Um, Dude, Why Bother?

I like this system because it creates a situation where tasks that challenge a high-skill PC do not have to be completely out of the range of possibility for low-skill PCs.

It compresses the difficulty scale, essentially.

The high-level adventure does not have to be full of tasks that only one possible class (ranger, thief, druid) could possibly do right.

So you can make a wall at, say, climb check= dex - 4. A fighter might have trouble climbing that wall, but they could make it. A thief of any level could also have trouble climbing that wall, but their level would still matter if they wanted it to.

Or you could make tracking a foe through a marsh check at simply -1 int. The ranger does not have to have a high int to successfully follow the tracks and be better than other people at it, but anybody else still has a shot to follow them. Because, hey, it's tracks in the mud.

Friday, January 20, 2012

There Is Life After Dangerous Ice Monkeys

Dear players:
This is where you are. You are in the ice maze. I'm sure you remember all about the Royal Fist Monkeys.

This is Brug. Remember Brug? Sam is (was?) playing Brug. Now Brug is an ice statue. If Brug gets knocked over by monkeys, even an Ice-To-Flesh spell is not bringing back Brug.

You are in the Ice Maze because the naturalist Miriya Essik is paying you to capture the ice medusa. This is Myria's home.

Just catch the ice medusa, get her to your boat, and sail for 6 days.

Miriya has promised you 2000 gold pieces each. If you return the ice medusa, she will probably offer you more gold to go find her an even more dangerous monster.

Do you have to do it?

No, you can do whatever you want.

Like what?

Here are some outstanding issues you have created:

This is Connie. You remember Connie? Connie's PC got drunk and..well a lot of things happened that got rolled on a random table. One of them is she got in a jam and prayed to her god that she be not in that jam any more. Vorn answered her prayers.

Only problem is: now Vorn wants something in return...

...some crown. Which one? Vorn says Connie will know it when she sees it and it's hidden somewhere in a fortress or dungeon somewhere in the islands you are now in.

Every day she spends not looking for this crown she will lose a saving throw point. That is bad.

So she has to either look, or find a way to get the quest spell lifted. Vorn is watching.

This is Queen Jayaeleene. You rescued her from the ice maze and took her back to her kingdom of Vrokk (one of the islands). She appreciated that. You are welcome to visit whenever.

However, also visiting her is this here white elf, Gormengeth. He's kind of creepy, frankly.

This is Mandy. She is still hallucinating. Someone might want to try to do something about that before the most powerful and unstable member of the party starts imagining flatworms crawling out of your eyes and tries to mace them.

This is the witch, Frost. She's had a vendetta against Mandy ever since she killed one of her bodies waaaaaaaaaay back at level 2. Last time you guys left the ice dungeon, she was there waiting and attacked...

...with her leopard men. They are vicious and leopardy. They will put you in jeopardy.

Then there's always your home, back west, which you have fled, on account of that skeleton invasion. Who the hell knows what's going on back there now?

And, as always, there's the whole rest of the planet to check out. Click to enlarge and be even more confused.



The most commercially successful games all have a default answer to this question built in to the system:

How will play in this same campaign 8 months from now be fundamentally different than it is tonight?

In D&D the default answer is: you'll be levelled up by then, and this means something. You'll be fighting crazy godlike monsters and exploring planes instead of dungeons or be building castles. Here is the concrete evidence: the spells go up to level 9 and the monsters include like Tiamat and Demogorgon. Look, there it is, waiting for you...

In Rifts the answer is: you'll either be fucking with this Coalition that rules North America or you'll get to see some whole new continent full of more crazy robodemonborgs. Proof: look at these crazy splatbooks we keep putting out Japan, South America, Africa etc. Unlike D&D, your PC will not have changed that much, but you will be seeing new stuff, so keep on.

In Vampire: TM the default answer is: you'll be higher up in the convoluted Vampire hierarchy and/or you will be further along in the metaplot that you've noticed we keep publishing. See, it keeps coming out. Even though you will still be pretty much some bloodsucking badass like you already were, the story will have progressed to some new phase.

In Call of Cthulhu the default answer is: you'll be dead or insane. Or more insane. Or insane in some new way. Or you'll be surrounded by dead or insane friends. Anyway point is the situation will have become entertainingly more desperate.

In Warhammer the default answer is: you'll have a whole new (better, more badass) career and you may also be insane. Or mutated.

-Shadowrun: possible exception?


Point is: every RPG session produces changes in that session. "Bangs" "assignments""plot developments""twists""occurrences" whatever.

The really successful games promise or suggest (though do not mandate) a specific kind of change will occur over the long haul.

This is like a barely perceptible carrot keeping the players interested session after session, even when they don't know it. The game is going somewhere.


Notes for GMs:

-Not all level-up systems automatically produce this idea of change. In D&D, level 20 is not just level-1-but-more-powerful, it's practically a different game. You go through distinct phases (usually) in D&D: useless schmuck, badass hero, crazy godling loaded down with items. In other systems, levelling up just means you are kind of better--but the enemies are still the same relative to you.

-The game ending is not an expectation of change. In The Oddyssey the sailors expect to be done and not sailing any more when they finish. That's not what I'm talking about. If they thought in 4 months their boat would be flying and four months after that they'd be maybe going through time then that would be what I'm talking about.

-If you remove a game's built in "change engine" or it doesn't have one but you still want long-term campaign play then either: the players have to trust that the supply of new and crazy exciting ideas you are coming up with is basically infinite (which you may be able to guarantee but the system can't) or you have to create (or let the players create) a developing plot that intrigues the players and makes them want to see what's next.

-Example (thanks John): a D&D ranger guy who is doing a land survey, mapping uncharted territory. If the player thinks genuinely that the next territory will be new and interesting, that is an expectation of change over time. There you go.

Or: A Conan type trying to conquer stuff. If the player expects to conquer stuff and then the game ends, that isn't the expectation that'll keep tons of people interested. If the player expects to conquer stuff and then the game changes to where it's about armies and castles and new lands--that's a change over time.

Smart GMs seems to set up these expectations automatically--like Jeff Gameblog has a dungeon full of 1st-4th level PCs and he is already talking about the dragon in there and the wizard that built it and the possible portal to Hell in the lower depths.

This also may be why lite indie games have a reputation for being one-shotty. Unless the players (or GM, when there is one) makes up a specific change-over-time expectation, the games usually don't provide them on their own. (I have no quarrel with Noisms comment below about how this is often a feature and not a bug.)

Now in the comments today we will inevitably meet someone who goes "Oh I played such-and-such for 80 years and nothing ever changed and my whole group loved it". That's great. We believe you. Pat pat.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

So, Answerers, here is another question..

The striking thing about yesterday's questionnaire (aside from how popular Death Frost Doom apparently is among readers of this blog) is the answer to the last question:

23. Is there anyone you know who you talk about RPGs with who doesn't play? How do those conversations go?
Came up repeatedly: "Well, there's the wife..."

So, to follow up, in her own words: why does your girlfriend/wife not play?

(Huge Bonus Points if you can get an answer better than "I don't play RPGs because I'm not really into RPGs.")

(If some life reason makes asking her impossible, you may go ahead and guess.)

(And yes yes yes I know there are many of you smug bastards--like me--whose significant others do play. Or whose S.O. is male. Or who are currently bereft of the pleasures and enigmas of physical intimacy. But today's question isn't aimed at us.)

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

GM Questionnaire

Repost and answer. Or, if you don't have a blog, answer in the comments. Or be a big rebel and do neither.

1. If you had to pick a single invention in a game you were most proud of what would it be?

2. When was the last time you GMed?

3. When was the last time you played?

4. Give us a one-sentence pitch for an adventure you haven't run but would like to.

5. What do you do while you wait for players to do things?

6. What, if anything, do you eat while you play?

7. Do you find GMing physically exhausting?

8. What was the last interesting (to you, anyway) thing you remember a PC you were running doing?
9. Do your players take your serious setting and make it unserious? Vice versa? Neither?

10. What do you do with goblins?

11. What was the last non-RPG thing you saw that you converted into game material (background, setting, trap, etc.)?

12. What's the funniest table moment you can remember right now?

13. What was the last game book you looked at--aside from things you referenced in a game--why were you looking at it?

14. Who's your idea of the perfect RPG illustrator?

15. Does your game ever make your players genuinely afraid?

16. What was the best time you ever had running an adventure you didn't write? (If ever)

17. What would be the ideal physical set up to run a game in?

18. If you had to think of the two most disparate games or game products that you like what would they be?

19. If you had to think of the most disparate influences overall on your game, what would they be?

20. As a GM, what kind of player do you want at your table?

21. What's a real life experience you've translated into game terms?

22. Is there an RPG product that you wish existed but doesn't?

23. Is there anyone you know who you talk about RPGs with who doesn't play? How do those conversations go?