Tuesday, December 29, 2009

On Fantasy Heartbreakers, New Games, and You... No, I mean "and Me"

So I'm hard at work on LotFP: Weird Fantasy Role-Playing, due in 2010, and I've got a lot of things on my mind. Retail distribution has been put on the table, and I'm currently crunching factors concerning that. How the two previous sentences will impact the overall module release schedule needs to be determined. Hammers of the God artwork is done and will be delivered this week, and there are other things both good and crap happening with LotFP as a publishing entity.

A couple things ahead of time, because I'll know they'll be coming sooner or later.

"Fantasy Heartbreaker." As much as I hate Forge-derived terms being used in actual conversation, internet or otherwise, using them wrong is even more maddening. All I have to say about the matter as it relates to my game is that my goal is 500 copies sold, and I don't intend it to be The Next Big Thing or take over the OSR, let alone gamerdom. The design goals for changes to the system are to satisfy two things from my point of view: Explaining traditional game elements so they make sense, and power issues. Oh yeah, and Things Never Actually Covered by most versions of the game.

It'll basically be The Game, just from my own point of view. Full compatibility with other OSR systems is a must; I will make no changes that cause compatibility problems. What will make this product (for I don't even believe that I am creating a new game at all) distinct and hopefully appealing is that point of view and the fact that it will be made with complete beginners in mind (well, at least the Introduction booklet). Only one part of the package will be "The Rules."

In keeping with OSR traditions, the rulebook will be available as a free download. It will be 100% Open Game Content, barring trademarks and artwork of course. The other portions of the box set won't be, but I don't think that will be a problem once you see how it's all laid out.

The license to declare compatibility on products will be very liberal, but I hereby declare that if just talking about compatibility on blogs and message boards, other makers of OSR games and material have my permission to discuss similarities and differences between their products and mine (an OGL Section 7 issue, for those wondering). I'd appreciate the same courtesy in return!

I'll post whatever I have ready on Friday (Character Creation rules at least) as Version 0.01, and then update that whenever a new section is done. I expect critique and comments all along the way! Discussion has already started here.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Death Frost Doom back in stock at Noble Knight!

Use your Christmas money here! These will be the last print copies available in North America for some months (although the European vendors listed there to the right each have a few copies if you want to pay that shipping...).

And pick up a few other OSR items at Noble Knight at the same time!

What is Role-Playing?

Ever read a book or watch a movie and wondered what would have happened if it were real? If there wasn't an author's guiding hand moving events to their inevitable conclusion? If the characters stopped acting like they're supposed to in a given situation according to the audience the story is supposed to appeal to, and just did what they felt like doing at the time? If nobody knew what the ending was supposed to be?

Role-playing is what happens when you accept a fantastic world and then throw away the script and pre-conceived expectations of how a story is supposed to unfold, and start pretending that it's actually happening.

Friday, December 25, 2009

LotFP Customer Survey: Three Questions!

Grinding Gear style heavy stock maps or No Dignity in Death style pull-out section?

The printing in the booklets... is it fine, or should it be bigger?

The monster stats... do you like the format? If not, what should it be?

The answers to the first two questions directly affect the cost of a product. The third is purely a preference issue.

And Merry Holidays to you...

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Experience: What to Award it For?

This has been going around the forums and blogs... again.

My thoughts:

  • Experience should be awarded on concrete, objective standards.
  • Experience should be easily tracked and awarded.
  • Experience should be awarded based on things the characters don't have to do in-game.
  • Experience should be awarded based on things anyone in the game can do.

So then.

I'm not going to deal with fiddly crap like fighters getting experience for fighting, magic-users getting experience for casting spells, blah blah. They players will come up with reasons to do this stuff when totally inappropriate just because they get experience for it.

Experience for role-playing? No way, because that usually means somebody is grading someone else's game performance on a completely subjective basis. Nobody should feel pressured to engage in amateur dramatics if all they want to do is say, "My guy asks that guy there if he knows where that thing is." Someone who's had a bad day at work, just got dumped two days before, maybe they're glad to get out amongst friendly types and play the game but don't want to engage. Maybe they don't really even feel like being there so much just this one week but don't want to screw the game up for the rest of the group and so show up anyway and just do the minimum on their end to keep everything going. I don't want to be a dick to those people by penalizing them in comparison to other players.

Experience for exploration? On the surface this seems like a good idea and in tune with the themes of the game, but... I just watched all the Vacation movies in the past couple weeks, and it gives me visions of the PCs turning into Clark Griswold and arranging their triptiks for no reason other than to do and see it all. "Come on guys, let's go see The Cave That Looks Like an Ear!" If a character dies, do the players decide to tour the party around all the old haunts to give the replacement character that exploration experience?

There is experience for monsters, but you know what? Even though it fits all my criteria above, I don't like giving experience for monsters. Not a single point. What frickin moron (I'm talking in-game... I know plenty of frickin moron players that enjoy that sort of thing... ;) ) wants to fight weird and deadly beasts? Shouldn't that be an obstacle to a further goal than an end unto itself?

But those ends... goal and plot point oriented awards strike me as too arbitrary and almost self-congratulatory for the referee. "Hey, you guys willingly went along on this adventure! Have some XP! The award is exactly as much as I think it should be for you!" There might as well not even be an experience system. Just level the guys up whenever you want them to fight harder stuff. Why not?

Experience for gold is sublime in its effectiveness in taking everything involved with the playing of the game and abstracting it to an easily trackable game mechanic. You can't think of it literally - "Oh gee, I found a gold coin in the street, so I'm a little bit better at what I do!" - but the placing of gold in places that require role-playing, or mission-solving, or dealing with monsters, or exploration, or characters using their class abilities, effectively summarizes and rewards those activities. And all you have to do is keep track of how much money is gained during adventuring.

Now I would make that an important clause: Money gained during adventuring. If someone opens an inn and profits, they should just get the money, not experience, else every successful merchant will be a high-level NPC. The same for rulers and taxes (the "every ruler is a very high level character" thing was a major problem in the Mentzer rules that broke any chance of my believing in a setting using those rules as-is).

This does require that treasure sometimes be spread in areas where it might not make the most sense for treasure to be, and does result in de facto story awards at times anyway ("Rescue my daughter and I'll pay you 1000 gold!" has to be considered gold given for adventuring), but there are variable ways to go about it.

Players can say, "Up yours, railroader!" if they don't like a particular storyline and go tool around for random encounters in the wilderness hoping to stumble across a lair with treasure, and get experience for it. It doesn't require them to talk in character when they don't feel like it, it doesn't require referees to bend over backwards trying to come up with hooks that intersect with every character's backstory (WHO GIVES A SHIT?) and gives PCs automatic motivation to get up the hell out of the house (no "why should I?" crap from "players" who act like they need to be convinced to play after they've already shown up to the game).

With variable paths and variable activities resulting in variable amounts of treasure, what the PCs do at every turn potentially affects their experience total. With plain story awards, it doesn't matter how things happen. "You saved the princess! Here's some XP, on me!" With treasure for experience, the process becomes important. "You saved the princess, and did X and Y to do it, netting you Z experience." But if the PCs didn't discover the identity of the secret conspirator, or just didn't follow up on it, they can still save the princess and accomplish their goal but missed out on the side-issue that they could also have benefited from in objective terms, not just nebulous "story awards."

Complications can be thrown in as well. What if the way to XP is something that delays or derails the PCs from their in-character goals? That becomes an interesting choice to make... further the "story," or sacrifice it in the name of accumulating power? Done frequently, that's a dick referee move, but done every so often, and you create some real tension and debate at the table.

It makes people who want to be honorable heroes have to decide to be so, perhaps at a real cost that more roguish characters would not have to pay. You know, making players play their characters as heroic instead of just writing it down and then playing it any old way you want. (especially if you only divide experience among the survivors! Hee hee, stab you in the back, my XP take just went up 25%!)

And of course in the traditional dungeon crawl, finding the most treasure is a direct indication of player skill (and luck!). Players that aren't so skilled are going to miss a lot of the hidden treasure, make bad choices in pursuing the more obvious treasure.

So many things you can do.

The entire experience system, and indeed the entire class and level system, is an abstraction. Breaking it down to the level of "This is the sort of thing that makes people better at their skills in real life" and trying to apply that to an abstract system just makes my head hurt.

Gold for experience just seems like the simple way to do things. I don't know the exact thought behind the experience system as originally presented in early D&D, but it (especially after Supplement I slashed the experience awards for monster slaying), like many early D&D systems which seem to be "illogical" or examples "sloppy design," actually turn out to be far more flexible and applicable than perhaps they were ever intended to be.

Selection from the Suppressed Library of the Temple of the Old Miner

Summary of the Fourth Volume of the Chronicles of the Time of Great Changes:

Chronicle of the establishment of Control Zones by the dwarfs as a solution to “the goblin problem.” All goblins living within dwarf lands are relocated to these zones. These zones will be guarded so that no one is allowed in or out without proper permits. The goblins are told that if they wish to re-integrate with dwarf society, they must succeed in organizing their own affairs first. A senior dwarf Councilor is quoted as saying, “If they can not behave, they will suffer.”

Sunday, December 20, 2009

How to Stock a Library

We're in the middle of the International Snow Like a Motherfucker Festival, as continents on both sides of the Atlantic get hammered by the wonderful, wonderful white stuff this weekend. It's snowing sideways outside my window right now.

But I'm thinking in four dimensions right now. There's the upcoming Hammers of the God, the upcominger Insect Shrine of Goblin Hill, the right-around-the-corner Death Ferox Doom, and the further-down-the-line plans for LotFP Traditional Fantasy Role-Playing.

The problem with ideas is that having these ideas and imaging how it'll turn out is the exciting part. Fleshing it out and writing the stuff, that's work, and while working, ideas come for other projects that seem much more inviting and awesome because they haven't reached the stage of needing work yet!

But Hammers of the God is done writing-wise except for the history of the location which in many ways is the main feature of the adventure from a writing point of view. I'm sure from a GM and player perspective, the thrilling locations and deadly foes and diabolical traps will be the most interesting feature of the adventure.

Of course, six rooms' descriptions depend on that history, so it's a bit less done than that paragraph makes it sound. The final pieces of art still aren't finished (but I've approved the sketches) and the map's not done yet so I've got some time.

The context that the adventure that became Hammers of the God was run in (ugly sentence, sorry) won't work for a commercial release, as it was adventure #2 of the Vaasa campaign, and it was used to communicate important information about what the campaign was, and that campaign lasted a full year. Obviously I can't do that for general release... or can I?

One of the important points within the location of Hammers of the God is the library. At the time of the original running, the books that were there were not so important. It was the book that was not there that was important for spurring the players to later action.

For the commercial release, I'm swapping that. The book that isn't there will be very ominous and may very well inspire a campaign arc for referees, but it's not the matter at hand. So the rest of the books in the library all need to have relevance to the location itself. Or at least a significant number of books needs to be relevant; irrelevant books will just be there to divert and delay attention, and perhaps misdirect PCs into harm whereas the relevant books will help them avoid harm.

How to do this?

A random table, sure, but it seems like cheating to throw in a random table with quick information like it's some damn rumors-at-the-tavern table.

No, I've got 100 index cards, and I'm writing a short synopsis of a book's contents on each one. When I get to the end, I'll put them in chronological order according to in-game writing date, then decide which bits are boring or extraneous and eject them. With the ones that are left, I'll see how each particular one might be able to be twisted around or have some "historical perspective" and spin doctoring put upon it, so a single subject might have multiple books - with conflicting information.

Then I'll come up with titles for each of these books, write up coherent summaries of their contents to be given to players who want their characters to take the time to translate these books, and put them in a list in chronological order so the referee can see the Big Picture, and tack random numbers on to each of them so the referee can randomly determine which book the PCs are rifling through at the moment. This whole thing will be stuck in the back of the adventure as an appendix so it doesn't clog up however many pages right at the beginning of the module.

The result will be a fully-stocked, no-cheating library for the players to research within, or not (things in there will definitely make life easier for the PCs, but nothing will be necessary to proceed to certain areas). It's already an interesting experiment to write, and I can't wait to see how it turns out, and how it is received by the people who buy the adventure.

I've always thought of traditional fantasy adventuring to be something akin to Indiana Jones-style archaeology. That there are ruins and treasure (and foes and conflict) are all good and well, but the success of the expedition depends on research and knowledge. Indy is a second-generation academic, you know. Gandalf pulled the same sort of thing when he visited Minas Tirith before returning to inform Frodo about the nature of his Ring. Pushing this sort of thing as necessary in an adventure might be pushing it, but making it available is something that should be done more often!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Dan O'Bannon 30.9.1946 - 17.12.2009

I normally don't do the death announcement thing, but Dan O'Bannon is a name I think that is not well known, and should be.

He wrote Alien, which is impressive enough.

He was one of the writers for the Heavy Metal movie, which is cool enough.

He was one of the writers for Total Recall, which is huge enough.

He was involved with Dark Star, which is cult enough.

But one project which made the name "Dan O'Bannon" important to me is Return of the Living Dead.

Return of the Living Dead is just a great movie. The characters seem very real to me, even (especially?) today, the effects are (mostly) excellent, and the humor that is in the movie is entirely situational (unlike the piece of shit Return of the Living Dead 2, which O'Bannon was not involved with).

This movie is also responsible for one of the few vivid memories I have of my father. He and my mother split when I was quite young, and I didn't see all that much of him except when he'd take me (sometimes with brother in tow) to the movies. In this case, I can see him now, head in his hand as Linnea Quigley danced naked on a tombstone, wondering why he ever thought it was a good idea to take boys aged 10 and 6 to see this movie. Fun times. :D

In my many years interviewing low-fame musicians, I became a fan of people willing and able to be self-critical. O'Bannon's commentary on the DVD also showed him to be fairly down to Earth and not full of his own bullshit. I've seen directors do commentary on failed (creatively, financially, or both) movies that have no connection to reality and act like the film was absolutely great and well-received and talk like every idea they had was awesome (for instance, when I listen to an M. Night Shyamalan commentary, even on his good movies, I want to punch the idiot, and I wonder if he pays people specifically to tell him how every turd he drops in the toilet is a brilliant expression of artistry). O'Bannon took a movie that was well-made and profitable (though hardly a hit) and pointed out his mistakes as a director as well as where he felt the film failed in particular instances (his frustration over one special effect in particular rings very true...).

I associate the movie with O'Bannon more than the more famous examples because this one was his. He co-wrote the movie (including the bits that gave it its charm) and directed it. His more well-known projects are primarily associated with other people (Ridley Scott, John Carpenter, Paul Verhoeven, etc).

He gave us "BRAINS!" so something that was all his has entered the general culture, even if people don't exactly know where it comes from.

So yeah, thank you Mr. O'Bannon, you did some good work, some inspirational work, and through that work made quite an impression on at least one person in this world.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Adventure Design as Motivation to Alter Spell Choices. Also, Movement!

B/X Blackrazor talks about the water weird here. I haven't used one in a real game in quite some time (there is a Urine Weird in Green Devil Face #1 but I did advertise that it wasn't actually ever played...), but the key part of that post to me was: "Most players simply aren't carrying a purify water spell in their repertoire."

Too true. I know that most of the time when I'm presenting Adventure of the Week, spell selection looks like this for clerics: Cure Light Wounds, Cure Light Wounds, Cure Light Wounds, Cure Light Wounds (etc for as many level 1 slots available). For magic users: Magic Missile, Magic Missile, Magic Missile, Magic Missile (etc ditto)/Sleep, Sleep, Sleep, Sleep (etc ditto) (depending on whether it is expected to encounter Big Baddies or masses of Small Baddies). Strength gets taken for level two to enhance the fighter for fights. I suspect as soon as the magic-user gets a Lightning Bolt or Fireball, that'll get taken every time, but right now it's Haste.

Alternate spells are taken afterwards, on the second trip to a location if it is suspected they might be useful. But seemingly never on a first trip.

On one hand, this all makes sense. Perfect sense.

On the other hand, this only makes sense because the way I set up my dungeons and adventures allow it all to make sense.

So, is this "move in with combat spells loaded, scout out the locations and eliminate opposition, then show up tomorrow with the intel spells" pattern unique to my games because I suck at first-go-round dungeon/adventure writing? Or do other people see this happen as well?

Is it even a problem? As a referee, should I be concerned with this and come up with ways to discourage this way of going about things?

Let me rephrase. As a referee, should I be concerned with this and frequently come up with ways to discourage this way of going about things?

... and then, movement.

Movement in D&D and the clones is in many ways... weird. In Wednesday's Insect Shrine game, there ended up being a situation where combat happened where everyone was far, about 100' apart. And per-round (10 seconds) encounter movement for a heavily-encumbered (filled up to the gills with oil, etc) characters wearing plate mail armor is... 10'.

So there was a lot of problems with PCs getting caught out in the middle of nowhere (relatively speaking) and not being able to do anything because their immediate foes were eliminated and it was a long way to the next cluster of combat. Labyrinth Lord (the system we were using) was kind enough to have running speed (which someone looked up partway through the combat), which was full-turn movement in the round, with lots of exhaustion penalties.

There was some grumbling. And I felt bad at the time.

But you know what?

On further reflection... the good guys and the bad guys (or the PCs and the NPCs if we don't want to play hero) were operating with the same rules, and if you want the AC protection of plate mail, this slow-as-molasses movement is the balance. I didn't see the unencumbered guy with the greater movement trying to complain that his AC wasn't too great, you know?

I'm lax about enforcing encumbrance. Sometimes I'm positive that every PC has 6 weapons and 5,000gp worth of copper coins, 6 weeks of rations, 45 flasks of oil, and that 50 pound art object they just found all in their backpack and two sacks, and that's not counting the weapon, shield, torch, and ten foot pole in hand. Plus somebody's mapping. I want to keep things focused on what they're doing instead of what they're carrying and not be a hardass making everyone explain every last piece of equipment they're carrying. (this did cause a rather amusing situation one time where a player had "a backpack" that had everything the guy ever picked up in an adventure, including I believe three spellbooks... that became an issue when the thing burst while he was suspended over a body of water) Even if they are technically carrying an allowable amount of encumbrance (albeit heavy), there's doubt in my mind whether they could physically fit all this stuff on them.

So yeah, likely my players get away with hell equipmentwise. Or maybe I'm just being paranoid. Or maybe there's one character who isn't carrying squat compared to the others because the player is actually keeping track (this would be me if I were a player, incidentally).

I dunno. I'm trying to concentrate on the things I need to do during a session and trust the players to not cheat the living hell out of the game. I don't think I've ever looked at one of their character sheets between sessions. I drop the closed character folder on the table before the game and ask them to make sure all the sheets are back in there before they leave for the night.

So I don't think I've ever looked at any of my current campaign's players' character sheets... ever.

But I'm still not going to stress about it.

You know what else I'm not going to do? Put up with any complaints, should they come, about 10'-per-round combat movement.

And I'm going make it a point to put some (not constant...) situations where such things matter.

Not to be a dick.

Let me rephrase. Not just to be a dick.

But to make the choice of wearing heavy armor, and the choice of suiting up with every piece of equipment known to adventurerdom, a meaningful choice with consequences.

RPG Pundit reviews People of Pembrooktonshire


Grinding Gear: Chugging Along at Noble Knight

The Grinding Gear is the first adventure I've released to not hit #1 at Noble Knight.

It went as high as #2, nestled between the new Warhammer box set and the Pathfinder core book. Not a horrible place to be, really.

Once it started falling, it was as low as #6, but now it's back up to #4, and that's with the new Dr. Who game shooting straight to the top so it still climbed back with new competition up. Not bad for three and a half weeks after release. That means steady sales. Wooo!

The last copies of Death Frost Doom (no reprint for a few months) were shipped off on Wednesday, so they should be ready for your "got Christmas money, wooo!" spending. :)

Death Frost Doom: In Fiction Form

An interesting interpretation, anyway.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Insect Shrine Playtest: 9th and Final Session

When I got the group together, it was supposed to be short-term. I thought it would be 3-4 sessions to go through the entire adventure.

But, alas, this thing is huge.

I didn't even focus on the role-playing at the base of operations in the module, which is the first chunk of the adventure but mostly character interaction and possible hooks for outside-the-module play.

The end of this session saw them defeat the goblin menace, chasing them from the surface. But it had to end there, as there wasn't much chance to storm the actual stronghold, and they'd already used the secret back entrance for an earlier raid so that really wasn't an option again.

All in all I think it was a success, with the playtesting more showing where I need to fill in blanks more than needing to change anything actually there.

I will probably need to convene a Skype group to do a hopefully quick run-though of the actual goblin fortress, and I'll do that sometime in January. Something tells me this is a bad time of year to try to get something like that together. ;)

Death Frost Doom Update

I'm all out.

I had just a few copies of the second printing left, and Noble Knight has just scooped those all up. If the post office does what the post office has done, Noble Knight should have them in stock in 8-10 days. With the holidays... well... who knows.

If you need it now, there's always Arkkikivi, Leisure Games, Sphärenmeisters Spiele, and LudikBazar linked up there to the right. Or the PDF vendors, of course.

But you should be able to spend your post-holidays gift money on DFD at Noble Knight, if you don't already have it.

There will be a third printing done of course, but it might be a couple-few months. I've opened up a thread for you guys to point out errors in the current text (ERRATA and TYPO BRIGADE, ACTIVATE!) here at the message board.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Official D&D Podcast plugs Death Frost Doom and Stonehell Dungeon

You can listen to/download the podcast here.

The plugs of the relevant items start at about the 18:00 mark.

They also talk about Slough Feg's Traveller album a bit earlier on.

I'm not at all complaining, but that's about the last place I ever expected to hear a plug from.

Tenkar's Tavern reviews The Grinding Gear

Right here.

One interesting note is GG is said to be "extremely well laid out if you want to read it on the Kindle DX," which is something I've been curious about since I've never even seen an ebook reader, and can't find good information on how to format specifically for that sort of thing. I guess this is a good sign. :)

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Death Frost Doom sells out at Noble Knight... again

Won't you think of the trees?

Grinding Gear has been buzzing along the top five for a couple weeks now. Only that pesky Warhammer keeps it from the top spot.

Oh Yeah, I Guess I Should Point This Out

"James [Raggi ]is one of the most interesting and daring writers *period*, no matter what school of gaming you like." - Mike Mearls

He said it right here.

Friday, December 11, 2009

"We're Gonna Need a Bigger... Ink Cartridge"

This is a photo, not a scan, of one of the art pieces (by Laura Jalo) for Hammers of the God.

Illustrations of adventurers in their little sanctuaries of light in the midst of huge caverns... yeah, there's going to be a lot of black.

The front and back covers look... trippy. But since I have not seen anything but color-warping photos of the art, I shan't post them yet.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Someone Didn't Like Death Frost Doom!

RPG Diehard explains here.

This is why I try to have different atmospheres for my adventures and not be a one-trick pony. Most seem to like the atmospheric nature of this one. This guy didn't. Hopefully he'd enjoy one of my others a bit better then.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Rollenspiel-Almanach Reviews Death Frost Doom!

Thanks for all the well wishes...

New DFD review here. It's in German. Babelfish translation is here.

Reasonable Dedication to a Hobby III

October 14, 2008, I had my first date with Maria. I wrote about it at the time here.

To recap, it was a first date and first meeting with a woman that had contacted me on the internet after reading my personals profile here. The date was scheduled just after my classes for the day, so I had my backpack, so during the lunch I pulled out the gaming books I carry around in there. This was right around the time Carcosa was a controversial subject so I also spent a fair amount of time talking about it and complaining about the prudes who went beyond the "I don't like it" talk into the "this should not exist author terrible human being!" territory.

The date went well, I should say. I moved in with her in December, and very soon had two groups a week over for gaming. Maria bakes fresh goodies for them every time, even if the game is during her work shift.

When I started up the publishing thing for real, she helped out immensely, fronting some money, and more importantly, listening to me rattle off ideas, talk about plans, worry about setbacks, and generally talk about it for hours and hours... a day.

... and less than half an hour ago, she married me.

Yesterday was also my birthday and the 4th anniversary of my arrival in Finland.

So, in lieu of gifts (hopefully not gifts in the loo), place an order for a book or two, whether direct from me or from one of my vendors, would you?

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Size of the RPG Industry

Paizo Publishing has 26 full-time employees according to CEO Lisa Stevens.

I had no idea. Everyone tells me how dead and dying this industry is that I assumed that other than WotC, no other publisher had more than a few core (2-3) full-time employees, and maybe a half-dozen companies were at that level.

I Think I've Got the New Project's Name!

The Old Miner's Shame no more!

How does...

The Hammers of the God

strike you guys?

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The League of Gentlemen

Since I keep getting reminded that people just don't know this show... here are a few clips from the BBC's Youtube channel that give the idea of where they are coming from, and how I put Pembrooktonshire together.

Edward and Tubbs:

Dr. Chinnery:

... and the Dentons:

No Dignity in Death: The Three Brides review by The RPGPundit


Friday, December 4, 2009

Reviews from R'lyeh looks at Death Frost Doom

Review here!

OgreCave reviews The Grinding Gear!

That's here. I haven't read it yet. Eek!

Save vs Poison has a few preliminary thoughts about the adventure here.

And it's at #3 at Noble Knight... and Death Frost Doom is back up to #4. That adventure keeps on going and going and going... :)

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Insect Shrine of Goblin Hill Playtest Session #6

The record sheet of one of the retainers, sadly slain in battle. It was that kind of session.

Screwing Around with Players and Map Qualities

I have Session 6 of the Insect Shrine in about 90 minutes, I'm behind on several things, like Part 2 of my Horror post and getting GDF #4' s formatting complete, I need to get the Old Miner's Shame text finished, and emails to answer.

So, of course, I'm doing a blog post!

I've received, through trade and usage of royalty payments, five adventures in the past week or so. All of these were published 2006-2009. This is OSR stuff, not olden days originals (well, as far as publication date, anyway). I don't want to name names because there will be some critical sniping outside of the context of a fair review, and comparisons between them-and-me on specific issues and not products-as-a-whole.

First, maps.

I am not a Mythic Underworld guy. There, I said it. When I've tried to make such things for my own use, I fail, as the dungeons seem more like random blah blah blah with a monster here, a treasure there, instead of something magical and wondrous.

What I excel at, if indeed I excel at anything, is creating an adventuring environment which follows a theme and has internal logic. The players might never be able to see it, but I must know the ins and outs of the location - who built it, why, what's happened to bring us from then til now - in order to make it sing.

One way this manifests in my work is the maps. Generally, if I'm screwing around with mapmaking and come up with ideas based on the maps, then I run into the Mythic Underworld problem, and all the problems that result when applied through the Raggi filter.

If I have the idea first and make a list of what should be there, and then make a map based on that... then I'm more satisfied with my work. I can look at it and think, "Huzzah!" I can look back on it months later and say, "That's a cool place."

But I often think of Melan's analysis of dungeon maps. While I often wonder if "making sense" hurts "gameability," for some reason when making maps, my Mythic Underworld could-be-the-start-of-a-megadungeon compare favorably to Melan's essay. When I go for "function defining the form," things seem to be more compact and linear. I know he's stated (on this blog, even) that the essay was in no way supposed to be some sort of manifesto on what good dungeon design looks like, I do take what he writes to heart. "Gameability" versus "verisimilitude" is a constantly raging war over here at Command Center Theta and at times I don't know if I'm a double or triple agent, and I'm always looking for the doublecross.

And you know what? I'm fine with that. When I make maps, both for my game and for publication, it's a concern of mine. But if I worry about linear dungeons and still say, "Well, this is the way it's got to be," then I stand by it as a conscious decision.

Looking at my published, and to-be published maps so far:

Death Frost Doom looks linear in design, and I suppose it is, but it's not "must go through room A, B, and C in order to get to destination D." There are many distractions, many things to do, and meaningful choices to make (my playtesters proved that!) along the way. Reaching Point D is in many ways an indication that You Screwed Up.

No Dignity in Death: The Three Brides has one dungeony place, and it's pretty linear. However, there isn't a succession of locations that are required in order to get to Point D. If the surface area is included as part of the "dungeon," then it isn't linear at all, with the house being a completely different branch with fun stuff all its own, the maze and graveyard being small branches, etc.

And that is all only one-third of the adventure anyway. The other two parts have so many variables and ways to tweak them that there is not a "Start Here and End There" situation at all. Then again, they're not dungeon adventures either, so...

The Grinding Gear is probably the most truly linear of the bunch, which superficially improves somewhat if you include the surface area as a different "branch." But the theme of the adventure is thoroughness. Making different branches or alternate and circular routes wouldn't actually be introducing choice, based on what the adventure is. It's a focused adventure and I think the layout of the environment strengthens that focus.

The Old Miner's Shame (title subject to change) is more along the lines of Death Frost Doom in the way that you start at Point A, and there's a Point B out there to get to, but there's all sorts of fun stuff along the way that can be, but doesn't have to be, interacted with. But of course there is some stuff that does need to be interacted with in order to continue - the location wouldn't make any sense otherwise.

There's also a totally different Point C that is possible to reach, so it's not exactly the same formula as any I've used before. Think of it as a White Plume Mountain with only two branches instead of three. I looked at a gap in the map and thought of doing a third branch, but the adventure as-is has been taken entirely from actual play, and is already two locations put together. Would a third branch really make the adventure better, or just bigger?

I decided that even if the answer was "better," since it would be an after-the-fact kludge I might as well kludge it somewhere else in the future then.

Insect Shrine of Goblin Hill will be much different. In addition to the wilderness area and the "sandbox" quality of the adventure, the main dungeon area is frickin huge. There are two entrances to the whole thing, and three areas that each can support more than one session of play. Of the three distinct areas within the larger dungeon, two have two connections to either other parts or the outside, one has only one such connection (but has two different ways to play through), and one has a branch to a distinct fourth area that I actually don't ever expect to be found. Nobody should have issues with this map.

Then again, nobody should have issues with anything about it, the length of time it's taken to come together... ay ay ay

Death Ferox Doom (title subject to change) just has an outline and a side-view dungeon sketch at this point, but I'm already cognizant of dungeon layout issues from the start. The dungeon will have three entrances, all equally obvious and accessible, with several levels (current sketch has seven, that probably will change, and in any event they won't be very large levels - this will be a "standard" size adventure) that will all be readily accessible by an elevator-like device (the details are in mind, but no spoilers this far out!).

Then I look at some of these other adventures and wonder why I'm worrying.

But that took a long darn time to write about. Mapping wasn't supposed to be the point of the post!

Screwing around with your players is supposed to be the point of the post. The players will be here in 40 minutes, so I have not much time left to talk, so most of the sniping will have to wait...

... except for one point: Reaching 0 degrees Fahrenheit is not nearly cold enough to cause a 20% die-off, especially when it's already winter and people are already hunkered down! 40 degrees is damn warm for "Dead of Winter" in a snowy north! This Finnish resident runs naked through your wintry landscape, suffering 20% shrinkage but no population loss! :P :P :P

One of the adventures I bought was Kuntz's Original Bottle City. While I like knowing about the history of the hobby for the simple fact that it is my hobby and it's damn foolish to not be interested in something you're interested in (that's not as Captain Obvious a statement as it seems...), I don't buy products for their historical value. I buy products to use for gaming. Now. In 2009 and beyond, not 197whatever.

Bottle City satisfied me (although there's no chance in hell I'm ever going to be able to do anything with all those empty rooms to keep up a consistent Kuntzian atmosphere, and I wouldn't have bought the thing if that's not what I wanted from the adventure) in this regard. It is a viable gaming product right now, and not just a historical curiosity.

But one aspect of history, the methodology of what was done "back in the day," is I think quite valuable for everyone. And one phrase strikes me as awesome from the adventure:

"I simply loved these encounter types, and the players despised them..."

This was obviously valid scenario-building back then, and certainly I design areas with the idea that "This is going to drive the players nuts!"

But I suspect that new-schoolers would go into prophylactic shock (sorry, in-joke after mishearing a line on House) at that line.

The commentary in Bottle City is full of fun stuff where Kuntz just talks about things he did to mess with the players (changing the effects of pulled levers from pull-to-pull in a non-random way, for example).

I love it. Love it.

Too bad my players won't be seeing 9th level anytime soon (minimum recommended level for the adventure). We started in July 2008 and I think the highest level character is 7th. Might even be 6, I'm not sure.

But yeah, I have to hit the shitter and the shower and welcome the players. Maria baked gingerchocolate brownies for them today! Later...!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009