Saturday, August 31, 2013

Numenera has Arrived

My limited edition leatherbound Numenera book arrived yesterday!

Easy Surveys for the GM

Good GMs care about making the gaming experience better for their players.  However, soliciting candid feedback at the gaming table is colored by the interaction of personalities.  To get real feedback from the group, you need it to be on their own, and often, you need it to be anonymous.  Enter the survey.

Surveys are sets of questions you can pose to your players to get very specific feedback.  Luckily, doing surveys has gotten a whole lots easier with the availability of Google Forms.

Google Forms (lots of how-to information found here) are easy to use, free, and automatically take care of pulling the data together into an easy-to-digest form.  I recently used one of these to do a survey to determine how the players liked the previous campaign and to get ideas for the next campaign.

From this experience and based on previous experience with surveys, here are some quick pointers:

  • Keep it short.  Nobody wants to spend a lot of time answering questions.
  • Make sure you give all the possible answers.  Avoid write-in answers, because these just get left blank.
  • Give incentive for doing the survey.  In my case, I gave everyone an extra karma point for getting it done (I use karma points as a hero point-like construct.)
  • Focus on the aspect of the game you want to get at, not on everything.
  • Make it fun.  Boring questions and boring answers suck.  Make some of the options strangely descriptive.

Here's an example question and answers to give you an idea (Yes they are meant to be slightly crazy -- that keeps it interesting.):

What is your favorite playstyle?
A)  Hack 'n' slash -- I like my foes small and in greater numbers.  Bring on the bald goblin hoards!
B)  Puzzling and thinking -- I like to watch the veins in the the other player's heads grow and throb while I ponder the goblin that only tells the truth and the goblin that only lies who hold the keys to two doors, each having four colors painted on them.
C)  Role-playing -- I think costumes should be mandatory, especially for Player X, the big burly man who plays a fairy in a pink tutu with a sparkly wand.  I want to be able to grow my character into something almost real enough for his own TV series.  We need more props.  I am almost done building my character's purple skull ring with green emerald eyes.  Is it ok if my background is more that 10 pages?
D)  Roll-playing -- I need more rules.  I want to be able to bring my own lawyer to the game, so he can help me rules lawyer the right way.  I want to use the rules to argue that my animal companion gets his own mount.  I also have a configuration of rules that allow me to argue that I can open a black hole using a bag of holding, an everburning torch, and a ray of enfeeblement spell.
E)  Meh -- I don't care.  I like hanging out and I don't play MTG. Can we order pizza next game? 
F)  Masochistic -- You know what we really need -- more character deaths!  We haven't even had a TPK yet!  What happened to that plot line where Cthulu returns riding a Tarrasque?  Oh, and I want another chance at Tomb of Horrors!
G)  Godlike -- I want to be able to min-max my character so I can ride a Tarrasque and take over the entire planet!  And that is just on Tuesday!
H)  GM -- I want to GM.  Payback is fun O Mighty GM!  

Of course, this is just an example.  You would need to ask the questions you are interest in and customize the options for the players at your table.  If you can make the questions and answers fun enough that they laugh out loud, you are probably on the right track.

Once you have built your survey, Google Forms gives you a URL to send it out to your party.  Be patient -- getting even a small party to fill out a survey takes time.  Make sure you tie it to a reward so they can have a reason to do it.  Offer to bring a special snack if everyone completes it, or offer an in-game incentive.

Most importantly, take the results from the survey as an important directive from your players.  If you think your players are comfortable with discussing the results, do that, but keep in mind that at the table, stronger personalities will dominate, while the survey truly gives everyone an equal voice.  Take the conclusions of your survey and do something concrete with them -- like improve your game for your players.  In the end, it makes everyone happier.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Tuesday Runelords

The report from Ranier:

  • This Thassolonian snitch is becoming a strange thing.  Like some strange force of fate, it forces our party to always change.  I fear Pajar and Dante are gone too long.  Another paladin popped out today, joining our party.
  • The paladin appears to be Varisian and her name is Tarisia.  I simple call her Tari.
  • We ran into another person in the level below today.  I tried to bluff my way through and I guess I was successful because he left without issue.
  • We found the problematic half-elf brother of Amico today.  Axle killed him quickly in his sleep.  He deserved worse, but it was good to avoid the fight for a change.
  • We ran into some sort of vicious sea monster today.  Axle came in too close and got killed.  A least the sea monster had been killing goblins for a while, which left fewer for us to clean up.
  • We found some sort of goblin nursery with cages.  Fun times.
  • We came across a temple of Lamashtu with two large extraplaner dogs.  Jericho fell in fear after their terrible howl.  The fighter killed one but got taken down by the other.  My scimitar fared well and I was able to take down the other.
  • We have found a ton of stuff along the way.  Soon we'll have to sort through it and see what to keep and what to leave behind.
  • Another warrior appeared from the snitch -- some sortof lone wolf rogue.  His appearance and same family name suggests he is of the same family as Axle, but he is displaced in time by 120 years.  
  • Sol and I are the only ones left from the original party.  I guess hiding my magic and relying on my sword has served us well, so far.  May fortune continue to favor our path, where ever it may lead.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

13th Age

Pelgrane Press released a d20 derivative game called 13th Age, and it has gotten a lot of attention.  The first thing you notice with 13th Age is that there is a lot packed into one reasonably-sized book.  It has the core rules for the system, of course.  It also has all the GM material and a lengthy bestiary.  It also contains a lot of information on the setting.  The artwork is impressive too, especially the maps.

You need to understand that 13th Age isn't your 3rd edition style d20 game.  13th Age has a lot of elements that seem 4th edition D&D-like, and a lot of changes to simplify the rules, aka the opposite of 3rd edition D&D.  I like to think of 13th Age as the way 4th edition D&D should have been done.

Skills aren't skills anymore.  They've taken skills and converted them to backgrounds.  Instead of taking tens and hundreds of skill points and dividing them into detailed categories, so you choose the background of your character.  If you need to make a skill check, you get the ability modifier that is relevant, but you can also get additional points if your background would have exposed your character to doing the same sort of thing before.  It incentifies having a better character background.

In addition, there are relationship points that provide a anchoring of the characters into the world.  13th Age does this in their setting by having icons... think of them as somewhere between gods and kings.  They are the holders of real power within the world.  Your relationship to them and the greater organization is what defines how the world treats you.

I really just love this concept, maybe because I have used it before without linking it to the mechanics.  In my last big campaign, major players came into the plot:  Elminster, Dragons, Gods, Powerful Wizards, a Lich.  The characters had to choose how they were going to support or fight each of those players, giving them context for what they were doing and why.

The nice thing with linking it to the mechanics is that the individual characters can now have different relationships to the bigger powers and even more ambiguous relationships.  How many of our best movie moments start with a friendly greeting and the other guys throws an unexpected punch?  These kind of uncertainties are great for making a good plot.

The combat mechanics look awesome.  Using a 1d10 greatsword?  You get to roll a 1d10 per level!  Hows that for putting dice in your hand to represent your growing power.  Of course, finding and rolling 10d10 can be a challenge, so there are a lot of dice rolling tricks included.

For more looks at 13th Age, Pelgrane has a good list of resources.  Unfortunately PDF versions won't be available until September, so it may take a while for gaming groups to get access to the material.  However, in the meantime, I am hopeful that I can teach this game and run it mostly through telling the rules and sharing the book at game sessions.

So who wants to play 13th Age with me?

Friday, August 16, 2013

GenCon Day 2

Despite us only staying half of day 2, I think it was even better than Day 1.  I was rested and able to do a lot more walking.  We learned the layout of gencon, and there are significant shortcuts to be taken through the convention center, which cut miles off my day.  Once again we were at the exhibition hall at open, and the crowd was smaller.

I got to catch up with Andy Hopp today, the artist and creator of Low Life.  He really is a great guy to meet in person and he took time out not only to sign my Low Life book, but also drew a couple of sketches in there.  He signed art cards for my kids.  We also picked up a dice bag for my wife and I got the limited edition miniature he had on sale.  It feels good to be able to support such a great contributor of new, unique content in the gaming world.

We also made it to Pelgrane Press over in the front left corner of the exhibition hall.  They were parked right next to an impressive Dr Who section.  Pelgrane Press has made a big impact this year with their rules-light d20-based system called 13th Age.  After all of the great things I had read, I was really happy to be able to pick up a copy, and for exact change, they also gave us an "exact change" die, which turns out to be the perfect die to use as an escalation die.  I am going to post separately on 13th Age.  We wandered around the hall for over an hour before we had to get back to our hotel.

The hotel wasn't letting us stay parked for the rest of the day in their parking garage, so we decided to head home after checkout.  We packed in a lot of stuff for our first gencon and learned a lot of stuff for the next time we decide to attend.

Here's my quick lessons learned list from my first gencon.

  • Get a central hotel to minimize walking.  The JW Marriot is on the far end of the convention center.  Because of the extra walking distance, I didn't make it to any of my sessions.  All the sessions I signed up for were primarily in the Crown Plaza.  The Crown Plaza would have been ideal.  The Westin was also in a pretty good spot.
  • Arrive on Wednesday night to get your badge, coupon book(!), and program.  The coupon books and programs seem to run out even on Thursday.
  • Don't eat at the convention center.  It really is as bad as everyone says.  The food trucks were awesome.
  • Order pizza from Hotbox pizza.  I don't know how it fares in the Chicago style pizza challenges of real connoisseurs, but it was better than most places I am used to.  They deliver to hotel lobbies.
  • Pack light but make sure you have room for stuff.  Wherever you go, you are going to get free swag and find stuff to buy.
  • Bring a couple of bottles of water with you each day in your pack.
  • Don't underestimate the time it takes to walk around.  To get from the exhibition hall to hotel was a good twenty minutes walk, though I was hampered by a cane.
  • Wear comfortable shoes and comfy clothes.
  • Prioritize your plan to visit places in the exhibition hall.  Be prepared to stop by multiple times in case the person you want to visit is busy or out for lunch.
  • Plan on meeting "famous" people.  I even got to talk to Monte Cooke with essentially no line.  It was amazing how accessible people are in the exhibition hall.  My wife and daughter even met the Dungeon Bastard in the hall and had a pleasant encounter.
  • Explore.  The convention center has a lot of nooks and crannies that your won't even know are there if you don't wander.  There are things going on all over, even at night.  There are games everywhere.
  • Be friendly and talk to people.  Everyone was really nice and friendly.  Its a good place to socialize.  In the art section in particular, there were a lot of booths manned with no one to talk to.  They liked having company.
  • Fly your geek flag.  Now is the time to show what you like.  I was very surprised to get positive comments on my day one t-shirt:  "It's too late.  You have awakened the gazebo."

Thursday, August 15, 2013

GenCon Day 1

There is a lot of walking at GenCon.  With two bad knees I walk with a cane when I am going to be walking for a while, and today it was holding me up after only a few hours.  Our hotel room isn't ready until 3 do I have found a bench to hang out at until then.
This morning was busy.  We ran late and then first missed the hotel parking and then found it full.  Valet it is and our packed stuff is held for us. We picked up our badges and headed for our first session.  Someone gave us bad directions so we didn't make it.  We ended up getting in line to switch the girls' tickets so they would be good for tomorrow.  The session programs with the maps were gone early, but we managed to grab two as they were restocking them.
From there we wandered to the exhibition hall and waited for it to open.  It was amazing how many people flooded the hall and yet the crowds thinned out quickly.
The highlight of the day was picking up the GM screen for Numenera and then getting Monte Cooke to sign gaming books for me and the girls.  He was nice.
I found the fantasy supplement for savage worlds for $20, which was a real bargain.
We saw a lot of cool artwork in the hall.  There were a lot of cool costumes.
For lunch I wanted to stay inside because of my allergies.  My wife and the two daughters hit the food trucks.  We all spent too much for food, but at least the food truck food was good.  The convention center food was everything that people had warned me about.
Two more hours until the hotel room is ready.  I need a nap.
Ugh... the room isn't what we reserved.  My wife forgot my suitcase.  At least there is pizza on the way.
But look who the wife and daughter met in the hall... the Dungeon Bastard.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

GenCon Here We Come

So our GenCon trip got delayed a day, but tomorrow morning we're heading to Indy nice and early, hopefully early enough that we can beat the rush for badges.  We'll be hitting the Con Thursday and Friday.  Friday night we'll be back home.

I got a load of bad news today, still taking time to digest what it means, but I guess that will wait until after GenCon.  Unfortunately there will be a ton of changes coming. *sigh*

Monday, August 12, 2013

On "Cairn" and "Axes and Anvils": Mike Nystul's Kickstarters

Mike Nystul raised almost $60,000 (minus fees and other stuff) on Kickstarter to make the Cairn and Axes and Anvils gaming products. (There was also a dungeon project, that I don't really know anything about.)  The projects ran into some big problems, which Mike has posted publicly about.  Some people in the community have taken a lot of time to publicly bash Mike in blogs and other places.

Its time for it to be said -- Enough is Enough!  Kickstarters are risky and projects fail.  Though Mike made some serious mistakes, Mike has done the community a great service after the fact by 1) sharing his mistakes publicly so we can all learn from them and 2) by continuing to try to move the products forward, even if it is at a slow pace, to try to meet his obligations.  I understand that people are unhappy and feel ripped off.  Get over it.  Kickstarters are not preorders on amazon.  They are an investment and they have risk.  It isn't like anyone lost their home or life savings by investing in a kickstarter.  Please refer your anger to Wall Street for those issues.

*deep breath*

Personally, I am still excited about the projects.  Mike is still taking his time on Axes and Anvils, and I am still hopeful that someday I might be able to take a print copy of it to a con and get Mike to autograph it.

Cairn has been handed off to a new developer, Ross A. Isaacs, and he has indicated he will provide backers with a copy for free if we can pay for shipping.  I consider that a really good deal, considering the project ran out of money, and I am happy to support Ross on this and in his future work on Cairn.

I hope that Ross and Mike both can get a little boost of positive energy knowing that some people are still excited about seeing these projects come to fruition.

Pink Dice Mechanics: Wisdom Check

As a father of 4 daughters, getting my daughters into gaming and ensuring they have a good experience has been a big part of my gaming life in the last few years.  This blog was really meant to capture my experiences along they way.  Without knowing it though, this blog wandered into a different idea completely.  The conclusion in gaming with my daughters is simple -- there is nothing special I need to do because I game with my daughters, because most all players want the same things in the game.

Players want a safe, comfortable environment to interact with other players and explore their own characters in an interesting story.  Of course, there are a lot of little details that make up a positive gaming environment, and that is a lot of what I have explored.  The bottom line though is that there is no unique reason to change gaming to help girls have a better experience; instead there are a lot of broad reasons to change gaming to make sure everyone has a better experience.

Over time, I have covered a lot of topics along these lines from different perspectives, both as a player and as a GM.  Being a good player and being a good GM take the same basic components at the table:
  • Value and respect the people taking time to game with you.
  • Dedicate yourself to making sure everyone at the table is having fun.
  • Communicate your views honestly and openly, and listen and care about other people's views.
  • Work to improve your skills and grow your experiences.
I know its somewhat underwhelming to read broad statements like those and have that somehow be the wisdom after years of gaming.  I guess its just like that Einstein quote says:  "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler."

GenCon: Marking the Beginning of the New Gaming Season

Yes, that's right folks... GenCon is this week and it marks the beginning of the new gaming season.  With everyone's schedule changing because of school and new games coming out it is the perfect time of year to start new games and end old ones.

My year and a half Pathfinder campaign wound down over the summer, and with many players leaving to go to college, I am looking to start a new Athas (aka. Dark Sun) Pathfinder campaign in its place.

Saturday Shadowrun is going to get revamped in a couple of ways.  At least one of the 4 players is changing schedule, so the time or the players will definitely change.  I am also working a Pathfinder extension rule set to potentially replace the Shadowrun rules I am using.  I had hoped originally to use Neurospasta as my new rule set, but I can't get any answer from them as to what is OGL content and what isn't.

There are other new games I want to work in.  I may have a Friday night Shadowrun game I can join.  I am receiving my Numenera content and I'd love to run that as a regular game.  I received my Companions of the Firmament book on flying for Pathfinder that I want to use in a new Pathfinder campaign that takes place in the jungles of Chult.  Oh, and I still haven't gotten around to running a Call of Cthulu style game, probably also in Pathfinder.  Oh, and Eh

I am really looking forward to continuing the Rise of the Runelords campaign I play on Tuesdays.  I think I like my character more every time I play.  And I have no less than two other characters built to take his place if he dies.

Projects are afoot too.  I am working on a new Pathfinder character class.  I have my Pathfinder post-modern / cyberpunk rules extension that I am pouring a lot of time into.  I have my new game world Rumeria that is still left incomplete.  The Port Wayne setting for Shadowrun needs more detail and maps.  There are also two other casual games I have on the drawing board that I need to think through.  With the two older girls moving on to college, I also have a new gaming area to populate.

There are definitely too many things to do and just not enough time.  That is always the case though.  At least its not boring.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Dungeon Robber: All the Cool Kids are Playing It

This is a post-funding "add-on" from a kickstarter I funded a while back.  Take a look, give dungeon robber a try, and buy the poster!


I find that it is a nice way to pass time as my late season allergies flare up.  Nice mindless distraction.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Fresh Look: Companions of the Firmament

Companions of the Firmament was a kickstarter I backed a while ago.  Today the softcover of the book arrived.  Think of this book as "Flying for Pathfinder".  Original estimated delivery was November 2012.  That being said, all kickstarters are late, and I don't take off points for a good product that doesn't meet schedule.  Late schedules show that real development is going on, which is what kickstarters really should be about.

Now I'm not much of a PDF reader, and though I have had the PDF for a while, getting a physical book opened up the content more for me.  So here are my thoughts on the book:

  • I am worried slightly about the softcover binding.  I'm not sure it will hold up.  Time will tell.  Based on the time that was spent getting everything right on the printing, I am probably worried for no good reason.
  • The artwork is not Paizo-level artwork.  Maybe I am spoiled because of all of the Paizo books and modules I have, but that is my bar.  At the same time, the artwork is good and used to support the manual but not overly populate it with extra crap.  I wish more PDF books were done like this so they would load faster.  Also, I have to say that the artwork was even better when you take into account the cost of the kickstarter to produce it.  Kudos to the team for managing their funds well.
  • The style of the book is wonderful.  It lays out different play styles.  It provides content based on the rules as written.  It enhances the other Pathfinder books I have. As a GM, it even clarifies some rules, which is important.  Where play styles vary, it offers some changes that can be easily adopted.
  • Content is combined into useful tables.  This level of practicality in a Pathfinder book is hard to find.  I wish these folks would teach Paizo how to write GM-friendly modules along the lines of this book.
  • New content is balanced, useful, and fun.
  • Lots of references and copyable worksheets are included to make everything easier.  Again, this makes things very GM friendly.
  • The personalized post card that was sent along was a nice touch.  I appreciate the work in hand writing all the post cards.
So I like the book overall, and I would back another projects from these folks in a second.  They produced a quality project that I will get a lot of use out of.  As grades go, I would give them a solid A.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Numenera: First Look

Yeah, I was a backer of Numenera and just received the core book and player's book PDFs.  Like all games, the first read is a bit overwhelming.  That being said, I think I really want to run this game.

The last year or so I've been leaning more and more towards rules light systems or Pathfinder.  Shadowrun has been frustrating me for a while now with two big flaws:  extremely complex rules and ever more powerful add-on books.  I am very hopeful that Numenera is not going to suffer from either of these things.

In many ways, Numenera is what d20 should become in a rules light world.  It simplifies the stats down to three, adds a little flavor, simplifies leveling up, and puts the focus back into the story.  It fixes an age old problem of who rolls the dice.  Even in Pathfinder, which is widely played, it isn't always clear who should roll the dice.

I also like how Numenera can be played with two dice -- a d20 and a d6.  There are other dice used, but they can be derived from the d20 and how to do that is explained.

I like the formula:  I am an adjective noun that verbs.  Take a look at the character creation stuff here if you are interested.

Three classes, limited races, very few item types, very simple mechanics.  The real challenge is going to be getting the group into the Numenera way of roleplaying -- focusing on story and discovery rather than mechanics and battles.

I have a lot more to read and learn, but I think its going to be a game I run soon.  A $2.99 character builder app is going to hurt the game at all either.

I need to go find out what more is going on for this game at gencon.  I'd love to play.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Saturday Shadowrun: The Visitor

So here's the timeline from Saturday:

  • The party has gathered in their new warehouse home:  Void, Vee, Ender, Mr. Black, and the triumphant return of Zephyr
  • The last job has made Mr. Black more paranoid than usual.  He is suggesting that the party lay low for a while... months, years, whatever it takes.
  • About that time there is a knock at the door.  The party gets ready for a problem.
  • It is a very plain dressed gentlemen.  Ender verifies he has no comm link, but there are comm links around.
  • The man wants to sit with the party and discuss business.  He is very persuasive and waits until everyone joins him at the table before talking.  He indicates that they shouldn't fret the people nearby, because they insist on coming with him, but he won't have them inside.
  • The man knows about Weldon and the previous job.  He knows impossible things to know.
  • The man makes a deal -- that he will give them money and tech to do the job of capturing Weldon (unharmed with technology intact).  They have 24 hours to submit their "bid" to consist of a plan and the list of everything they'll need.
  • He drops some information:  His name is Celedyr.  His works research for Transys Neuronet.
  • The party agrees and the man leaves, leaving behind an electronic location to contact him.
  • They look up the guy... he's a dragon.  They are working for a dragon --  a very hands-on dragon it seems.
The party starts compiling the list:
  • Team of programmers
  • Scania vm42
  • 6 snipers
  • 2 r series drones
  • 40 ferrit drones (with tasers)
  • 2 dragonfly drones
  • Ares desert strike
  • 40 capsule rounds filled with slab
  • defiance t 52 short shotgun
  • Gel shells
  • Rating 6 jigsaw skull
  • Stun staff
  • 3 grenade launchers
  • 13 stun grenades
  • 13 gas grenades
  • 13 flash bang grenades
  • 5 thermal smoke grenades
  • Glop cannon
  • Dart gun
  • Laesal wine
  • 2 crossbow with 4 injection arrows
  • Slab
  • Concealed armor for truck
  • Stick and shock rounds
  • Rating 5 armor for monocycle
  • Dog
  • Drone racks
  • Collapsible bow rating 3 w 30 stck and shock  easy breakdown
  • 30 hammerhead
  • Ballistic shield
  • Explosive gel

The storyline continues...
  • A plan evolves... a large box truck... lots of nonlethal weapons.
  • Mr. Black calls his dad to find out what tech they need to hold this guy.  He gets redirected to Lloyd... a German Orc who works as an assistant to his father.  The orc ultimately ends up suggesting that they need to either knock this guy out with drugs and electricity or the only box that is going to hold him is a coffin.
  • Void and Mr. Black track down a box truck they can purchase.
  • The crew goes to talk to Sheldon in the crazy house they had him locked in.  He is getting better and they plan to release him in a week.
  • Sheldon refuses to talk to them at first because Mr. Black has taken on Weldon's look.
  • Zephyr is there and Sheldon talks to him.  He tells Sheldon what is going on.  Sheldon agrees to help if they get him out.
  • They try to get him out, but the doctor is out of town.  It is at least 2 days until he gets back.
  • Mr. Black runs into another roadblock, literally.  One of the entrances to the ground floor is being sealed up by Ares due to their antics in the last run.  The Elders are going to be looking for them to either imprison or eject them.
  • The next day Ender gets a call from Eula.  "What did you do?"  Ender goes to check it out and sure enough the Elder Councils agents are swarming V-Works and the crappy hotel where the party used to stay.  The party are wanted by the Elders.
  • Ender tracks down Weldon.  He was seen walking into Grundy's place.
  • Mr. Black, after being hit with a clue-by-found, calls Spinner.  There is some kind of deal reached between Grundy's group and Weldon that involves Weldon turning himself in to Ares.
After a long session of the plan coming together, and yet more complications infecting the situation, I suggested the party gather more contacts and use them.  Next time they will start with whatever comes out of their deal with Celedyr and whatever info they wrangle out of their contacts.

Player Advice: Why do I keep repeating myself: COMMUNICATE

I am going to state this one more time so everyone can get this.


I am so tired of players getting pissed off and leaving without clearly communicating their issues with a game before they leave.


How can games get better if we have to read people's minds when there is a problem?

I have left a game once as a player because of problems I had with the game.  At my last session I continually explained to the GM the bad things I saw coming and ended the session telling the GM that I didn't have fun and the rest of the players agreed.  When the GM did nothing AFTER communicating the problem clearly, then I left.  I gave the GM a chance to change things.