Tuesday 29 May 2012

Random Character Generation = Double Plus Good

This is why I have so much love for random character generation. The players don't need to know the rules, they just pick up the dice, make a handful of narrow choices, and 20 minutes later they have a character ready to play. No skill points to allocate, no building a character with high level play in mind, no min-maxing. WFRP1e is brilliant in this regard. Despite being a skill-based game, these skills are all determined by random rolls and a randomly determined profession. The player doesn't need to know how skills work mechanically, they just roll up a character. And what WFRP1e has over the vast majority of D&D[-alikes] is that these randomly determined professions also determine a character's starting equipment; his trappings. Even classic D&D character generation slows down, with new players, at least, when the starting money is rolled and the equipment lists are brought onto the table.

Random character generation can combine the oracular power of the dice with a rapid entry into adventure.

When I write my fantasy heartbreaker - and I am writing it; a version of OpenQuest/Renaissance with the flavours of WFRP1e and Titan, current working title Hammerstein! - it will have a random character generation system that can get a player into adventure in 20 minutes. Don't hold your breath for Hammerstein! But when I do finish writing it, you might be (just) able to hold your breath while a new player generates a starting character.

Read All About It!

D&D in the Guardian? Whatever next?

Well, here's what - a grognard with good things to say about D&D Next!

Sunday 13 May 2012


I’ve remembered the ‘feel’ of Talisman of Death since I first played it... damn, probably nearly a quarter of a century ago. It felt different to the other Fighting Fantasy books that I’d read until then, and not just because of the framing device of playing an adventurer (you, or YOU?) plucked from Earth, not unlike the characters in the D&D cartoon! Of course, I am now aware that Talisman of Death was written by Mark Smith and Jamie Thompson, gamebook writers of note, responsible for the Way of the Tiger series among other things, while Thompson, with Dave Morris, wrote the Fabled Lands series.   

Orb, not Titan. Greyguilds-on-the-Moor is just to the left of of that ominous looking Crack O' Doom.

My adventure in Talisman of Death was largely urban, with a reasonable variety of locations explored and characters met. I did a little research in a library, met several scholars, recruited help from the Thieves’ Guild, accidentally explored the Temple of Death, and died in battle with the High Priestess of the Shieldmaidens, Hawkana. When you can’t trust a Shieldmaiden, who can you trust? This combat reminded me of the problems with the Fighting Fantasy combat system – the three point difference in Skill between my Hero (Me?) and Hawkana made an 18 point difference in Stamina irrelevant. It works for gamebooks, but for a multiplayer RPG, I’m wary of using it over other simple systems, say, Dragon Warriors or OpenQuest.

Unlike the previous ten books in the series, there was a much greater sense that meaningful choices could be made on the basis of the sections that had been previously read. It didn’t feel – though the truth might be different – that you had to push your Hero into engaging in Bizarre Search Behaviour, as in the previous urban adventure in the series, City of Thieves. Though, perhaps relatedly, Greyguilds-on-the-Moor has very little of the colour or character of Blacksand. 

This sense of control was in stark contrast to my next experience of Fighting Fantasy, Space Assassin, an infiltration of the spaceship Vandervecken to kill the evil tyrant-scientist Cyrus. I remember completing the book on my first go when I last played, probably about ten years ago. This time, blowing apart a security robot, I examined its wreckage. Finding that it guarded a safe with three buttons, one green, one blue, and one red, the book left me with no option but to randomly press a button. That’s not even the bad GM’s game of ‘what am I thinking?’ BOOM!

Saturday 12 May 2012

Ammorality and Aplomb

Having just finished watching the brilliant Mesrine, I commented to my wife that old school D&D characters are like Jacques Mesrine – essentially bandits, though they’re not just in it for the money, but also for the glory, who profess to have some kind of code or ethos, but will break it – violently – when expedient, developing delusions of grandeur, before dying a bloody mess. In the Icewind Dale D&D PC games you could find a book – How To Be An Adventurer – which contained a chapter titled, Face It, You’re Actually Neutral Evil.

So, something different. Jacques Mesrine – the character in the film, at least – had ‘aplomb’. As I understand it, in the French editions of Call of Cthulhu, characters come with an ‘Aplomb’ score, helping them survive mind bending horrors with a shrug and a Gallic ‘huh’. Now, I have never liked Fate Points, Hero Points, Luck Scores, and the other metagamey distinctions between PCs and NPCs. But, would conceptualising these kinds of PC resources as an Aplomb Score lessen this dislike? How come the PCs can keep escaping from the oubliette in Threshold Gaol? For the same reason that Jacques Mesrine could have done – their superhuman levels of aplomb.

Tuesday 8 May 2012

House of... oh Heck!

Before his car broke down on a country road in the rain, my Hero must have been an SAS veteran or something. SKILL 12, STAMINA 22, LUCK 11. This guy is one of Britain’s hardest men. But House of Hell is to Call of Cthulhu what Starship Traveller is to, well, Traveller. I remember an article in Dragon, I think (though I have not been able to find it since), in which a Call of Cthulhu Keeper wrote about allowing his PCs to tool up with machine guns and grenades – because, in the end, those aren’t going to help. What matters in Hammer House of Cthulhu (more Peter Cushing, less cosmic horror) is staying sane in the face of mind bending terror. 

So… [dice clatter on Android dice roller app] …SANITY, sorry, FEAR 7. What a roll! 

My Hero had the psychological constitution of someone already on the verge of a nervous breakdown. So, yes, my Hero is a war veteran, but he’s also psychologically damaged. Sure, he finds various dagger-like implements, and hacks a zombie to pieces (hiding behind the curtain in the Balthus room, of all places), but in the end he is done in by a book. No, seriously, he was frightened to death reading a book on hypnotism. I chose that over the book on black magic as I thought it would be less frightening, but at that point my Hero would have died had he opened a particularly well done pop-up book. Your adventure ends here.

Actually, if that book had been illustrated by Ian Miller, it might well have finished me off. I have always found his art brilliantly unsettling.

I know that some people have far less a taste for fear and sanity rules than I do. They reduce player agency, they say, and in the process they can turn a heroic character into a snivelling coward. I’m not sure about the first (I see a continuity from "I hit with my axe" [roll] "no, you don’t" to "I stand firm in the face of the horrors from beyond" [roll] "no, you don’t"), and, as for the second point, well, isn’t that a good thing? Doesn’t it emulate some of the most interesting elements of fantastical fiction (and make the truly alien horrors of the campaign something more than a big bundle of hit points)? Now, WFRP has a sanity system. D&D traditionally doesn’t, but Ravenloft added one to AD&D2e, and made a particularly interesting distinction between ‘fear’ and ‘horror’. Call of Cthulhu obviously has the grandparent of these systems, one which can be transplanted over to any BRP-based system, while Mongoose RuneQuest II has its own in Necromantic Arts. Now, I like these kinds of ‘psychological systems’ in my games – somewhere on my hard drive is a fear and sanity system for Traveller that I’d written to try to produce an atmosphere of Aliens, Event Horizon, and the like (if you don’t find the horrors of the outer dark out there, where do you find it) – but do they find a place in your fantasy and sci-fi RPGs? In other RPG genres? Or are they reserved for games that are explicitly about ‘horror’?

Sunday 6 May 2012

Slowly Ticking Over

In January I became a father for the second time, which is kinda holding up gaming. She weighed 3lb 12oz, which, I'm fairly sure, is lighter than my old 'white metal' Great Unclean One. Since then we've rolled up a few characters for the RQII/Legend sandbox, and then played Heroquest when the babe in arms inhibits concentration on anything more complex. As for painting, I've only managed a handful of models. As I doubt that I will paint the miniatures that I got at Christmas before Christmas rolls round, I might well go through 2012 without buying a new miniature. However, here are a few Dwarf Trollslayers that I finished. The one on the right with the Goblin in a cage was mostly finished before arrival of child 2.0, and as such is painted in a slightly different style. New style = more Devlan Mud (extinct). They need a couple of tufts of static grass, but when I paint the black on the edges of the base, that is 'painting over'.

The crazy paving background is from a model train shop. I'm planning on using it to make bases for the Heroquest miniatures.

Wednesday 2 May 2012

RuneQuest 6 preview available

Having just received a bunch of RuneQuest 3 books from eBay, I really am going to have to sell some comics to make room, make room.