Monday, October 28, 2013

13th Age comes of Age

The rule system for 13th Age, the Archmage Engine, has been released as an SRD under OGL.  This officially makes it a game that I have to GM, now that the rules are freely available for my players.

Archmage Engine SRD

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Q & A: RPG Profile

I'm currently running (at flgs):  Custom Pathfinder extension for modern on Tuesdays

Tabletop RPGs I'm currently playing (at flgs) include: Sunday Rise of Runelords

I'm currently running (online): Nothing yet

Tabletop RPGs I'm currently playing (online) include:  Shadowrun

I would especially like to play/run:  Numenera, 13th Age

...but would also try:  Call of Cthulu

I live in:  Indiana

2 or 3 well-known RPG products other people made that I like:  Ultimate Equipment (Paizo), everything Forgotten Realms (Ed Greenwood, et al), Numenera (Monte Cooke)

2 or 3 novels I like:  Neuromancer, Snowcrash, Giant Series (John P. Hogan)

2 or 3 movies I like:  Groundhog's Day, Gattaca, The Avengers

Best place to find me on-line:  Who knows?

I will read almost anything on tabletop RPGs if it's: Well thought out, insightful, positive

I really do not want to hear about: Failed kickstarters (aka beating a dead horse)

I think dead orc babies are ( circle one: funny / problematic / ....well, ok, it's complicated because....)  a nice problem to serve up to a paladin.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Gaming Tables

With a new gaming room coming into my life soon, I've been taking a look at options for gaming tables.  This is a quick overview of what I've found so far.

First up is a Kickstarter I helped fund by the newly created Mortise and Magic.  The kickstarter has a good overview of this add-on style gaming table.  By setting this on a good sized table, like a dining room table or a coffee table you can create a cool set of gaming nooks.  There is also a version that is stand-alone.  Some neat features include book slots on the corners and integrated lighting.  The kickstarted version will have additional features.  I like this table as an inspiration piece, though I'm not sure it is exactly what I'm looking for.  I look forward to getting a copy of the plans so I can potentially hack them in the direction I want.

The next table is the "Ultimate Gaming Table", aka "The Avenger", which has its own dedicated website with lots of pictures.  This one has lots of slide outs under the able, which I like a lot.  It is also a full size table, which gives the gamers a lot more room, and the GM even more room.  The top is plexiglass, and the pull-outs have plexiglass too for wet erase marker usage.  I am a big fan of using wet erase markers because they don't smudge, but I'm not a big fan of plexiglass.  It tends to scratch easily.

The "Green Monster" is my nickname for the gaming table at our local FLGS.  The green monster is a 4 x 8 green felt stool height gaming table build out of lumber.  When I am playing, I like the height.  It is harder to use for non-gaming stuff.  The felt turned out to be not nearly as flat and useful as I thought it would be.  We regularly get dice landing not quite flat on it.  Recently, they added plexiglass to the top to put maps under.  Again, I'm not a big fan of plexiglass because it scratches easily.

The Cadillac of gaming tables are made by Geek Chic and they have a whole website with gaming furniture.  You might recognize their tables in use by Acquisitions Incorporated or Tabletop.  Their top model is the Sultan, shown below.

So, looking at all of these tables, what table do I like the best?  It is a chimera of a lot of the tables.  I like the two level effect, so a center table that has a second level that can be raised or set on top would be nice.  I like the pull-out drawer features of the Avenger.  I also like the cover up gaming space under the top of one of GeekChic's tables, like the portal (shown below).

Ultimately that means, the first table I need to worry about is my saw table so I can build my own.  It will take some time and money and love, but I think it will be worth it in the long run.  I am also looking into integrated tablets, projection display, or touchscreen as an additional feature.  

Sunday, October 20, 2013

At The Mountains of Madness: Online Movie Script and Related Artwork

Unfortunately, Guillermo de Toro's interpretation of Lovecraft's "At The Mountains of Madness" will not be produced.  However, the script and artwork is now available online for your GM inspirational pleasure.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Friday Shadowrun: Just to Make Things More Interesting

Vlad reports in...

When it rains, it pours, and time, it seems is slipping at its usual duty of keeping everything from happening at once.  You almost get the idea that there is someone, somewhere plotting and scheming all of this reality, trying to make it into some sort of story.

So I finally made it back to the bus without incident.  I have to admit it creeps me out a bit having it parked on the edge of the crater that we created on a previous mission.  It is the constant reminder of what happens when things get complicated.

So we split the cases we had gathered into two piles -- cold cases and warm cases.

Opening the cold cases we found a mismatch of about three people's worth (minus the torso and skulls, of course) of cyberware.  Some of it was old; some was normal stuff; some was foreign.

We opened one of the warm cases and saw a glowing head.   It was as creepy as one can imagine -- I think I saw the thing move. I'm thinking radioactive, so we aren't going to open anymore until we can get it somewhere that can keep us from glowing in the dark.  We close the lead case back up.

The case from Grundy's friend has a lifelike humanoid arm with a ring on it.  Saeder-Krupp logo on the ring lets us know it might be something high-end and corporate.  One has to be wary of any corp run by a dragon though.

So we decided to go visit Mr. Vic, a crazy gnome street doc about these limbs, and, besides, he probably has the proper protection for radioactive stuff.  Now the thing about Vic is that he isn't all there anymore.  He has dabbled in too many dangerous things with too many odd side effects.  When we arrive at his house, he is camped out in the bushes with his missile launcher that he lovingly refers to as a BB gun.  Scary gnomes (the garden variety) are keeping watch with him for squirrels.  What he really means is droids -- you learn to translate after a bit.  Inside he has droid heads mounted on the wall.

He takes down his front door, which just so happens to be a cart (*shakes head*) and we bring the cases inside, though a spiral staircase in the trunk of his car.  Cool entry -- he flips up the keypad that covers the old style keyhole for the lock on his door.  He digs in after we promise him a game of chess with the lizard man (Zero)?!?!  Inside we all just stair at the "junk land of mystery and wonder".  Outside there is a ruckus, so he gives me his BB gun with some cryptic directions to go kill the squirrels.  Sure enough outside there is a St. Bernard sized droid with odd features burrowing down headed for Vic's lab.  I aim the "BB gun" and push the red button.  Next thing I know, I am laying on the ground.  There is a crater where the droid was.  In the crater we find the original droid, and 3 smaller cloaked ones that luckily got taken out in the blast.  They aren't disintegrated, but seem shorted out.

Back inside Vic shows us what he has found... even a cyber heart.  It is all weird stuff.  Luckily he recognizes it, both from an auction house (Titanic Auctions run by a Mr. Smith -- the same banker that ended up dead) it all went through and from an estate sale coming somehow related.  It turns out he bought a lung from the collection and had it implanted.  He gives us a ticket to the estate sale, and mentions our old buddy Dredd stopped in with similar questions and headed to the same place.  Great.

There is a brief moment where Vic threatens zero with a dandelion, but I calmed him down.  We get our stuff.  I get to keep the BB gun.  We're back on our way again, after seeing a black van pull away.

GRRRR  Can I do nothing without being followed!  I need to get a scanner.  Or maybe a security drone?

Mr. Fixit calls -- we have to meet him in the mausoleum of an old cemetery at 6AM.  No sleeping in for the wicked.

We get back to the bus.  The crew turns to a conversation on the ring on the new hand marked Saeder-Krupp.  I find out there is another ring similar from Ares.  Oh, and they glow like the sun in astral space.  No wonder everyone had been tracking us.  Mages!  Grrrr

About this time a guy in a white suit, white hat, with red eyes and a demonhead cane strolls up from thin air.  I work the mouth magic and he spills the deal.  The rings we have are 2 of a ten ring set, of which he has 2.  If we can find and return our 2 plus the other 6 he''ll give us one wish (Really... genie dude?) or 25 million nuyen.  We can get a quarter of that if we just turn over the 2 rings.  This guy has an angle.  He leaves a cigar box with places for each ring.  I suggest we throw it away -- his magic contraption seems like a nice way for our rings to magically disappear.  I am worried we need someone powerful to balance out this guy's act.

So talking about these rings more, I find the guys ran into a dragon a while back who looks like an elf, hangs around with an elf woman, is a powerful person (duh), and likes to frequent newer drinking establishments.  They even know what he looks like.  We really need to talk more.

So we are figuring options:
  • Track down dragon
  • Sell 2 rings
  • Go to Sacramento and visit Auction House
  • Estate sale -- Noon tomorrow in Port Wayne
  • Sell augments
  • Meeting with Fixit at 6AM
  • Find rings by astral aura
  • Visit old lady in Port Wayne at antique shop for something to hide the rings' auras

Yeah, about this time we hear the news of Dunkelzahm's death. Man, what a day?

And, then, who shows up but our old buddy Dredd. I am ready to flee when he says he just wants to talk. He not only has one of the old vintage foreign cyberlimbs, but it turns out someone has filled him full of the same kind years ago. I scrape enough to know it was against his will and he is motivated to find these people that pushed him full of metal 30 years ago. Dredd looks a bit rough, like he's been in a losing fight lately. He agrees to assist when we need him. He also mentions the augments become no longer radioactive once their properly installed. Ok... explains why he doesn't glow in the dark.

Just when I think the day couldn't get any weirder, a guy falls off a building onto the bus behind us. 20 nuyen says it is a sniper who tripped -- it would be our luck.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Lovecraft: Blasphemy, Abomination, and Insanity for Role-Playing

Deep in one of the many packed boxes, a mint condition book of Call of Cthulu D20 awaits for its next victim to find it.  Reading the blasphemous book will rend the mind with aeons-old pieces of the greater chaos that awaits, lurking, within the places that humans do not look, the place where false assumptions hide the real chaos.  Insanity could be the only outcome, if there weren't something far darker and deeper yet to be awakened.

Lovecraftian horror awaits you.  But what is it that defines Lovecraftian horror, over all the various subgenres of horror that evolved since?  Simply put, Lovecraftian horror is defined by the discovery of new knowledge that destroys the human assumptions of the world so profoundly, that it causes insanity.

I cannot emphasize enough how utterly brilliant the piece "Lovecraft's Concept of Blasphemy" by Robert M. Price is in describing the true nature of the dangers in Lovecraftian horror.  If you truly want to capture the dangers in your role-playing version of Lovecraft's world, you are going to need a truly dangerous and horrific form of insanity brought on by exposure's to blasphemous pieces left to be found in the world.  You also are going to have to always have the threat that something bigger, chaotic, beyond understanding is lurking, awaiting return, awaiting a call.

In all of our games, there are those monsters set aside for destroying the world -- the tarrasque, the leviathan, the elder evils.  They are reserved for times like these, when the actions or misactions of the party can trigger something so terrible, so much in utter defiance of the world as it is, that once unleashed, if even for a moment, that nothing will ever be the same again.  In these moments, the PCs have the chance to not only miss their own petty goals, but to unmake the world.  In this moment, the world can turn post-apocalyptic.  The laws and rules can be thrown to the wind.  The real emergence of danger can unwind everything.

And, yet, even before reaching this point, the characters will themselves, necessarily start to unwind, breaking piece by piece of the working model of the world that is their minds, until they no longer will be able to function, will no longer be able to determine the reality of shared humanity, the subset of the blasphemous world that lies just below.

As a GM, this is my greatest challenge -- to bring fear into a game with Cthuluian mythos.  I think the answer is simple... do not let them see it coming.  Let the threat appear from the corners and the edges until it is upon them, and then it is too late.  Their precious characters will be pulled in and the new knowledge will tug and pull at their minds.  And I, the GM, will track it all, and suddenly insanity (link to sanity rules for d20) will cloud them, their direction, their party.  And if they do not discover the outcomes, it will be too late, and the Lovecraftian horrors will decend upon them, and destroy them.  But if they do figure it out, victory, in some small petty way, might be theirs.  But I will not tell them what is possible or how it will work.  In this, they will find their fear.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Rise of the Runelords Update

After a bit of a hiatus, our humble party got back underway on the Rise of the Runelords campaign.  Ranier was in good form this week.  We started this week having split all the loot and gold from the end of the first big adventure and wearing a shiney new level 4.  For Ranier, this meant now having the ability to use wands to perform melee attacks with his scimitar.  Here's his report:


It's been a quite couple of weeks in town.  The sheriff is still grumbling because we left town to deal with the goblins and others.  Oh well, we saved the town... again... from evil.  And the town guards does squat.

I've been copying scrolls into my spellbook and have quite a collection now.  It is unfortunate that some of them I have not truly figured out yet.  I have found a new trick -- being able to charge my scimitar attacks with spells from wands.  I suppose I'll have to share this one with the group, because certainly they will notice.

I've been working with Sol, and besides guarding, he can now also fetch and track by scent.  He's a good dog, and I'm sure his new skills will help the group a lot.  I just need to get some armor or something to protect him better.

Amico is still providing us with a place to stay, and we give her a shoulder to cry on after all that has happened.  The Red Dragon Inn has become a good enough home for now.

The sheriff showed up this morning at breakfast, skulking in to sweet talk us into another job.  It appears a gruesome murderer is loose, and we get to mop up the mess while keeping it all quiet.  Actually I shouldn't say much more -- the rest is meant to be kept close.  Just don't read ahead if you don't want to know (SPOILERS ALERT)

We got a couple of notes from the sheriff from "his lordship", the murderer.  It looks like Jericho is somehow connected -- this guys wants him in on something.

Today there were two victims at the sawmill.  Before there were 3 victims in the young widow's bard at Cougars Creek.  The scene at the sawmill was awful.  Katrina and Harker, her love interest, were both murdered.  She was cut in half by the saw.  He had his face craved off and had a 7 pointed star carved in his chest.  The place was covered in a terrible smell.  The footprints leading in and out of the window lead us to believe that a barefoot intruder did this, despite Jericho's discussion of a murder / suicide.

Tari and I check out the Lords' houses to make sure nothing strange is going on there.  Meanwhile Jericho and Alex interrogate the Katrina's father, Vin Vinder, and the finder of the bodies, Ibel Thorn.  They also check out the bodies -- all but Katrina with the star and the face removed.  Grim.

I question Amico more about the lord's houses -- Scarnetti, Valdemar, Devron, and Kajitsu.  Of course, Amico is the last lady of Kaijitsu with her father and brother and mother dead.  Devron, the mayor, lost a brother to chopper, an infamous serial murderer in the area in the past, and a father killed in a riding accident.  Scarnetti runs the lumber mill.  The widow's farm was handled by the Devron family.  Too many connections.  I guess that is the way it is in a small town.

We check out the barn of the widow where the murder occurred. From the widow we learned another person was taken in at the scene of the first murder.  Graste was found to be insane and was sent to the sanatorium.

At the sanatorium we got held up by the doctor, who took off after a loud noise from one of the patients.  We checked his files and found some inconsistencies in his story.  Further investigation found him under attack by Graste, who was changing into some strange monster.  We took him down quickly, but not before he gave a message to Jericho.  Jericho was desired as "part of the pack" before the killing would stop.  I used my "new trick" with the wand of shocking grasp channeled through my scimitar, and when it hit him (crit), it electrocuted him so quickly that I thought he would explode (33 damage -- woohoo!).

The doctor was experimenting and monitoring the changing patient.  A man in purple robes appeared from seemingly out of nowhere and offered to help for our silence. Its the same thing the sheriff directed us to do anyway, so I shook on.  I am convinced it is best that people don't know this truth.

The purple robed necromancer took us down under the sanatorium where he had been doing his own research.  He had several zombies nearby.  He indicated that the outlying farms had been hit by the group of ghouls.  It looks like the leader is a still-somewhat-human ghast.  They tried to lure Jericho into the west where they have been identified to be operating.

We are off to help the people of the outlying farms.  Hopefully some of them weren't change by the bite of the ghouls, or we'll be taking several days to kill all the ghouls running around.  I could get really dangerous in a hurry.

We covered so much ground this session that now were are leveling up to 5.  Wow.  Next level -- Shadowdancer!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Karma Economy: Increasing Skills

Playing Shadowrun (4th Ed) has gotten me thinking about the contrast between leveling up in traditional D&D and its derivatives (Pathfinder, 13th Age, etc), and completely different games (Numenera) in contrast with Shadowrun.  Shadowrun has a very unique economy with the gaining of karma points over time.

Numenera and Shadowrun both have a mechanic that allow a player to accumulate a few points each session and you can use these points to make you character better.  The D&D sphere and Numenera both also have significant level ups that occur after many sessions, unlocking all sorts of new things.  Where Shadowrun is substantially different, is that once you are really good at doing something, getting even a little bit better requires some significant hoarding of karma points over time.  It simply isn't easy.

So for example, I was a bit of a dunce and didn't put much into my perception at the beginning of Shadowrun.  To make up for this and other skills that I've got nil in, I can take a good session's worth of points (4 points) and bump those up a notch.  However, if I want to bump up something that is already a strong suit, it can easily cost 20 to 40 karma points.  Now I am saving up for a month of two (assuming a session a week).

This is an interesting economy of points.  Those impatient will slowly become moderately skilled in lots of different things except for what they specialized in during the upfront build.  Those with a personality for saving points, can become masters at what they are good at.  This, however, can cause some big problems.

As a GM, I know that deconflicting characters is an important part of keeping a game fun.  I want my character to be the absolute best at X, and if someone else comes in and is better than me at X, my character loses its appeal.  This is a major design consideration in parties, and why D&D has the typical fighter, cleric, rogue, wizard group engrained in everyone's brain.  By design, the party mix deconflicts the characters.

However, with Shadowrun, everyone starts out happy, but the impatient players keep getting broader and broader, and patient players keep getting more and more focused.  Now with Shadowrun in particular, the dice mechanic makes this a big problem.  Getting a rank in a skill in a d20 style game increases all your rolls by 1.  It is a definite increase. You are better.  In Shadowrun, getting a rank in a skill only increases the probability that your roll will increase on average by 1/3.  What this means in practice, is that a moderately skilled character with good rolls can easily beat a highly skilled character with bad rolls.  And so one can see how someone's character suddenly becomes a drag, because their thunder got taken away.  The impatient player can actually take away the gameplay from the patient player with a well planned out character.

Numenera, on the other hand, moves skills in chunks of 15% of probability, aka 3 numbers on a d20.  And, the most you can ever scale your rolls with skills is 30%.  What this means is that ultimately skills can only have a 30% influence on the outcome of a situation.  In d20 and Shadowrun, these influences are much larger,  having a 95% shift in d20, and per the rule of 20 in Shadowrun, a mean shift of nearly 7, which is pretty much the whole range (aka 100%).  Of course Numenera has other pieces that figure in:  do I have the right equipment, do I have help, do I put extra effort into doing this thing.  Edge in Shadowrun is sortof like effort, in that you can add it when you really need it.  The resulting alternation in probability is a bit more muddled though.

So which system is better?  Which system is right?  It is hard to argue with the hybrid, simplified approach that Numenera takes.  It balances between both approaches and yet simplifies the mechnic for easier, faster play.  D&D, being the old classic skill base (aka d20), is also elegantly simple and hard to say is wrong.  How can you beat a mechnic like 'you just add'.  Shadowrun, on the other hand, really seems like a much more complex formula that can ultimately cause character conflict problems.  It does, however, fit with the general feel of Shadowrun.  In Shadowrun, there really is no balance.  Every character is going to be different; everyone's goal is to stay alive and munchkin up as much as possible.  From this perspective, which really meshes well with the video gaming generation, Shadowrun has its place.  It just is a different place than a lot of other RPG systems.