Monday, 4 March 2019

How To Resolve Everything That Comes Up

The older I get, the less tolerance I have for crunch, even if I do sometimes have flashbacks to teenage fantasies of having a table at which a game in which weapon length, height, weight, incremental fatigue, etc. were all incorporated into a smooth running game. I want quick systems that arbitrate the move from player choice to consequences - which for me is the crux of the gaminess of role-playing games.

Anyway, I recently came across a post (from last November) on The Borderlands entitled How To Resolve Everything That Comes Up, and basically, "yes". In fact, I've said it before, I think, somewhere, in different words, that the 2d6 Reaction Roll system is THE lost universal D&D arbitration system. I wasn't the first, of course. 

So: the players have made a choice and it is not clear what the outcome must be? Let the dice decide. Decide what would be the worst possible outcome, the best possible outcome, roll 2d6, add or subtract 1, 2 or in extreme circumstances 3 for all the factors reckoning into the disposition of the situation, do the same for PC actions (default to Ability Score modifiers) and interpret the result. 

One of the great joys of returning to Classic D&D and its variants a few years ago was using tools such as the reaction roll, random encounter tables, and morale rules and feeling much more like I was also playing the game, not simply running a game for other people. Creative interpretation of the results of simple dice rolls is one of the key skills, and prime pleasures, of Old School games mastering. 

Oh. I've kind of spoiled Steve's post. Head there anyway, he has it laid out in a well presented table!

Saturday, 23 February 2019

Life Among the Ruins

As a result of my boundless vanity, I occasionally check out from where the few hits of my blog come from. This doesn't take too long. The other day I noticed a few hits coming from a really interesting post by Joseph Manola titled "OSR aesthetics of ruin". It is a few years old, but I really recommend that you read it. I was busy cutting quotes from it to post here, but found that what I would have ended up doing was repeating almost all of it back to you. So read it! 

So what I will add is that the comments Jean-Francois Lebreton recommends the paintings of life in the ruins of Rome by Hubert Robert and... wow! This stuff amazing - ripe for providing the visuals of a great FRPG setting. And, from this pointer, I found that there is a whole style of painting called Capriccio -  "architectural fantasy, placing together buildings, archaeological ruins and other architectural elements in fictional and often fantastical combinations". I could see an entire OSR-game (or other game in which exploration was a key game 'mode') built around Capriccio.

View of the Port of Rippeta in Rome - Hubert Robert

A Capriccio of the Roman Forum - Giovanni Paolo Panini

Arches in ruins and Hecuba’s vengeance over Polymestor - Viviano Codazzi

And more, and more, and more. 

Friday, 15 February 2019

Monday, 4 February 2019

Bedtime Stories - playing Fate with the kids

Did our bedtime stories game go well? Well, the girls (7 and 9) seemed to enjoy it? R played May, daughter of the Witch Queen (R later said that May rarely used her full name; May Corpse-Death), and J played Pearl, warrior princess of the Crystal Castle.

I plumped for Fate Accelerated as the system as, despite being unfamiliar with *actually running* Fate, I figured that it would be the one of the best way to create characters for people who are not going to get to grips with the mechanical bits and bobs of chargen, or the constraints involved into fitting a character concept into the boxes of archetypes, classes, or even good old fashioned skill lists. Asking a kid questions such as "Who are you?" "Why do you get into trouble?" and "Tell me one more important thing about your character", to generate Aspects, followed by, "How does your character solve problems?" to assign scores to Approaches is about as total newbie friendly as it can get.

One thing that both of them instinctively got was Compels - in fact, they were always looking for ways in which their Aspects could complicate their plans (and so get them another Fate point to pile in front of themselves). This, of course, is just an extension and formalisation of their usual make-believe (role) play; without the background in rules-based games in which the goal is to mitigate weaknesses and maximise chances of success, 'making the game more fun' by suggesting that the Witch Queen might show up, or that the fact that Pearl is hot-headed and always getting into fights simply seemed obvious.     

They also seemed far more open to approaches to problem-solving / encounter resolution that perhaps wouldn't occur to more experienced gamers. For example, they met Sir Percival at the ford across the Rainbow River, who challenged Pearl to a contest of arms. Pearl managed to get a "success with style", which we worked out as granting the Boost "knocked back into the shallows". Rather than follow this up with another physical attack, J decided that Pearl would brow-beat Percival with a "don't you know who my mother is" speech and invoked the Boost which took Sir Percival out of the fight.

I played a bit fast and loose with the rules - in part because I didn't really know what I was doing and in part because I was running a 'bedtime story'. One thing that I'll have to reconcile if I'm running Fate for adults is my 'old school' instinct to run a non-combat/non-physical peril encounter without calling for the dice, and to make use of what a game like Fate offers and play out these scenes making use of the Aspects, Fate Points etc. An example of this was when May bumped into her mother, the Witch Queen, in the Bone Orchard, and ended up in a very teenage "you're not the boss of me!" argument. R came up with some great "attacks", and it seemed entirely appropriate to run this is a "combat", especially as to not do so would be to privilege physical combat as *the* game. It's even more clear to me now that Fate (and a few other games with some 'familial resemblance') would be great for running games in which there is nothing recognisable as combat or even peril in traditional RPG terms. 

Perhaps more importantly, I need to work on getting the "opposition" right mechanically - both in terms of Aspects and ratings on paper and the way in which they are played at the table. How do I represent Sir Percival? The Witch Queen? Bardon's Bandits? But perhaps more importantly; When do they create advantage? When do they concede? When do they use Fate Points? Things were probably *mechanically* a little too easy. This will come with practice.

But it was FUN. My wife told me later that she'd be listening from the other room and had been really impressed with how engaged and excited the girls had been. We'll definitely be playing again - there is  Dragon to meet, after all.   

Saturday, 2 February 2019

Bedtime Stories

Rugby has been cancelled - frozen pitch (don't think any games in the Yorkshire leagues were on today), so I've had a fair few 'extra' hours today. So I promised to run Fate Accelerated as a bedtime story for the girls. This is as far as my prep has got - hoping to get an Adventure Time, MLP, Steven Universe type atmosphere from the game.

Thursday, 31 January 2019

Having fun storming the castle. Or: "Stop describing deathtraps with popcorn in your mouth!"

I've been looking through my draft folder. This 'draft' was something that I'd left as just a title in 2013! Over 5 years ago. So I'm not sure what I was planning to write here, but it sounds like the gaming was good - we were in the middle of the Crown of Kings adventure for Advanced Fighting Fantasy 2e, so I'm guessing I was planning to write about the Heroes' exploration of the fortress of Mampang. 

It does, however, give me an excuse to recommend a couple of posts on adventure design and communicating information to players through the games master

The first is actually a series of posts by Courtney Campbell of Hack and Slash on 'Gygax Design'. Actually, it doesn't hurt to start with 'On Gygax Design IV' which discusses the concision of early modules and compares this to the increasingly wordy adventures that came after. I'll let Courtney speak for himself - go and read his blog:

As I was saying the other day, one of the things that the OSR has done well is recover the idea that the purpose of RPG books is that they are useful

The second post I'd like to recommend is on David McGrogan's Monsters and Manuals, and discusses the infodump, the fourth wall, and immersion in story and setting. It is related to Courtney's post, of course, in that it implies that as GMs (and, as adventure designers, even if only for ourselves) we need to think properly about the way in which we communicate. McGrogan is, of course, the creator of Yoon-Suin, an OSR setting which I think is a good example of a way in which information can be presented in a gameable way.

Monday, 28 January 2019

OSR: Other Systems Required

One of the things that got me so excited when I returned to playing RPGs was that there was - and still is - so much creativity in the OSR-space. What the OSR has been very good at is producing material that can be used directly at the table. That creativity spans adventures (for example, the Lamentations of the Flame Princess adventures, the Hill Cantons stuff), settings (the Midderlands, a Red and Pleasant Land, Yoon-Suin, etc.) and tools such as the Sine Nomine sandbox 'machinery'. And that last 'name-drop' is so important - the foregrounding of the player-directed exploration game - the sandbox - over the GM-directed plotted game is one of the strengths of the OSR, to my mind. Of course, the OSR isn't immune to Sturgeon's Law -  there is a lot of dross - but there is so much absolutely excellent stuff that made use of the *common language* of class, level, HP, AC, etc.

But that doesn't mean that OSR stuff need be played using a TSR-D&D inspired 'class and level' system, does it? Now, I am a MASSIVE fan of the TSR-D&D game engine, so why might I want to use a different system? Depends on the mood and circumstances. Perhaps I want a crunchier, grittier game - in my stable of RPGs that'd involve using a BRP-based game or WFRP. Perhaps I have fewer players and want a game that can sidestep the expectation that the adventuring unit is a party with a spread a classes - in which case, as well as the above, my shelves might suggest Advanced Fighting Fantasy or perhaps even Barbarians of Lemuria. Perhaps the nature of our gaming group means that the slow level progression of TSR-D&D, or conversely, issues of substantial power increases as PCs move through the levels means that we need something with a flatter 'power curve'. Or perhaps, as GM, I just want to try out some nifty game system that isn't particularly new, but is new to me - such as Fate, PDQ, or Heroquest.

But I want to have my cake and eat it, obviously.

Now, I've run TSR-D&D/OSR material with only light adaptation using BRP (Magic World, in particular) and AFF. I know that people run 'Expert' tier (levels 4-12) D&D modules using Barbarians of Lemuria. I know that there is an amazingly thorough adaptation of Night's Dark Terror to WFRP1e over at Awesome Lies. So I know using OSR material with other systems can be done successfully: I've done this with some success, I know that you've done it with some success. But I would love to hear what people have done in this vein - what systems have you used, how did this change the game at the table, what worked, what failed, and how successful have been your attempts to use systems that diverge from the 'trad' assumptions within which I have almost exclusively gamed?