Wednesday 22 January 2014

Wham-bang, thank you Mampang! [part one]

And so, sometime before Christmas, we came to the end of Mopsy, Cramer, and Ho Lee’s adventures. We left them with Naggamenteh the Torturer mutilated lifeless body at their feet. Heading deeper into Mampang, the party encountered the obligatory independent trader.

I swear, there are more independent shops in the citadels of Titan’s Tyrant-Wizards than there are on the average British High Street. Ooh, there’s topical for you.

Nylock offered a variety of odds and ends for sale, and the Party quite reasonably assumed that at least some of these would prove useful in ways that are impossible to anticipate. [This is one of the legacies of the gamebooks – designed to be replayed, the reader accumulating knowledge on each attempt – that works against meaningful player choice in a tabletop RPG] Ho Lee bartered for some spell components, and Cramer bought the two candles, one apparently ordinary, the other a BLOOD CANDLE. According to Nylock, that is.

The party then, perhaps a little gullibly, followed the signs for the ‘Inner Sanctum’. They passed through a room that magically deadened all sounds and dimmed all light, before arriving at a, well, bedroom. The bed, table and other furniture was covered in a thick layer of dust. The party ignored the warning signs and headed straight for the wooden chest that they spotted.

A heavy portcullis dropped down, and ALL the party are trapped inside the room. The release lever was in a different room. By the book, this was the end of the line for Mopsy, Cramer, and Ho Lee. Aww.

Consider the ‘Responsibilitiesfor Failure’ and the ‘Consequences of Failure’. In this case, while the mistake was the Players, but the consequences of their failure was game ending (one of my complaints with linear adventure paths), not something to be experienced as part of play - if we had played this as a mission within the context of a sandbox we could all have had fun rolling up new characters and playing out the Archmage’s conquest of the Old World. So I fudged it…

In the style of Indiana Jones, SNAKES began to pour through the crumbling mortar between the stone of the far wall. The Party defeated the snakes, not without cost, and began to explore the hollow behind the wall – a Snake Nest. This involved some suitably paranoid, tentative exploration, ropes tied round waists and all. If only they had been that careful when entering the room…

Some impromptu demolition later and the Party had engineered a deathtrap-cum-shortcut straight to the third set of Throben Doors. What was it that Naggamanteh told them about the doors? That the danger was not as it seemed, but it would burn those who believed it was? Or something like that. D, playing Ho Lee, correctly inferred that whatever they saw when they opened these doors would be an illusion, and that they had to betray no sign of doubt in their conviction of the illusion’s unreality. Bravo! Pity not everyone in the party was listening to the wizard.   

Ho Lee threw open the third set of Throben Doors. The room beyond was filled with a raging inferno, a door visible on the other side. At this point, the book advises, “You should at this point ask each player in turn what they are doing. If the player says they will run or walk through, they will be safe. If a player asks a question back, says ummm, err etc or otherwise prevaricates, that Hero will be burned by the flames.”

Referee: Ho Lee?
Ho Lee (D): I walk through the flames to the door.
Referee: Cramer?
Cramer (A): I follow Ho Lee.
Referee: Mopsy?
Mopsy (C): Ummm. Errr. I try to protect myself with my shield?
Referee: Errr, okay…

“Hesitating Heroes will take 1D6 STAMINA damage immediately, and another 4D6 STAMINA to reach the far side of the room.” 5D6 STAMINA damage? Oh my. Oh, hang on, there is more, “In addition, the Hero will be ignited.” Hahahaha!

Mopsy suffered 2D6 STAMINA damage. His wavering disbelief was strengthened as he watched Ho Lee and Cramer walk unharmed to the door on the far side of the room. See, this is why I prefer sandbox-ey games to adventure paths – let the PCs suffer the consequence of their actions in a context in which those consequences can be enjoyed by the Players, even as the PCs are burned to a crisp.

With one slightly charred knight, the Party opened the door to the next room. There was no light. The room was not just dark – the light from the inferno did not penetrate the room at all. Cramer lit one of the candles that he had bought from Nylock. The room was illuminated, and the party saw that the room was filled with sharp blades, spinning saws, scything pendulums and razor-sharp wire. I think that it is safe to say:

Thing is, the ‘blood candle’ is a trap too, being named for its thirst for blood. As Cramer - Cramer the Fortunate, a thief with LUCK 13 - attempted to cross the room the candle flickered. The room went momentarily black at a crucial moment. Ouch! To say the least. The Party was more than slightly bloodied before they tried lighting the other candle, and found a steadier source of light. Still the blades taxed the Party’s STAMINA, before they reached the next door.

“We open the door.”

And I was thinking, “Don’t you want to listen at the door first, or come up with a plan of action, or…” But they threw open the door. And were faced with a room full of GUARDS – fifteen of them in fact. Five per PC. Spears were levelled inches from the Party. The Sergeant ordered them to put their hands on their heads and surrender.

“We fight.”

“What?! Haven’t you seen how dangerous it is to be outnumbered? You are all wounded.”     

“We fight.”

“Okay. As you reach for your sword you are immediately jabbed with a spear.”

The book says that Heroes who do not surrender will be immediately wounded by three spears. I had them wounded by one. A little pointer. I don’t like ‘plots’ that *require* the PCs are captured, but Players should also realise when their PCs are outmatched, and not bank on the Referee saving them… oh, hang on, that is exactly what I am going to do!

Again, the Sergeant calls for the Party to surrender.

“We fight.”

Bloody hell.

Well, the fight then. Ho Lee summoned a MANTICORE (many sessions ago, I let D spend a lot of Experience Points on creating a new Sorcery spell – let’s call it COR) that immediately began laying waste to the Guardroom. Cramer was driven, bloodied and unconscious, to the ground and the Party, dragging Cramer, retreated back into the Chamber of Night. That being the magically dark room filled with sharp objects. Ho Lee poured a POTION OF STAMINA down Cramer’s throat while Mopsy held the door shut. They had only a few moments to think of a plan.

They realised that they were still wearing the uniforms of the Mampang Guards. But embryonic plans to argue that this was all just a terrible misunderstanding never really developed. After all, a Manticore was still tearing Guards to pieces just beyond the door that they were desperately holding shut. C started to describe a plan that seemed to involve Mopsy taking all his clothes off, but that was quickly vetoed. The Guards were about to burst through the door. There was no way back, over the blades of the Chamber of Night.

They were trapped.

Thursday 16 January 2014

Playing by Google Hangouts…

Since D is off doing his second PhD, and with C feeling a little under the weather, last night’s game - the first real session in Allansia using Magic World - was played with only me and my wife at the actual table. Now, playing by Google Hangouts means:

…never having to tidy up.

With two young kids, our house is in a state of permanent toymageddon. Having people over for Games Night gives us a very good reason to tidy up. But playing by Google Hangouts means that we can wallow in our sloth! Like the Hobbits in Lord of the Rings, it’s all just trickery with camera angles.

…that the players have, very consciously, take turns to speak.

With everyone at the table, it is easy for one player to slip into the background while another holds court. The limits of Google Hangouts, such as occasional microphone drop out, cross-talk being rendered unintelligible, etc. are, in this case, its virtues. For the game via Google Plus to work, all the players need take care that everyone else has had the opportunity to have their say. And I, as Referee, have to ensure that everyone has actually heard my descriptions and the answers I give to any questions. D realised this very early in last night’s game, and instituted a set order in which the players would speak.

The limits of Google Hangouts actually improved play at our ‘table’. And, because I didn’t need to tidy away Duplo, it gave me more prep time.

Still, it's not very sociable, is it? And no one brings me any snacks - the Referees due reward!

Wednesday 15 January 2014

A critical hit with the ugly stick

In Magic World, a BRP game, characters have an Appearance (APP) characteristic. As with any characteristic, if, by magic, ageing, disease, or wounds, the characteristic is reduced to zero, death follows shortly. But just how does a character 'ugly away'?

This is a pressing question. In the our new campaign, a Magic World game set in Allansia, the players have rolled a particularly ugly bunch of PCs. Forget the good, the bad, and the ugly, we have the ugly, the ugly, and the ugly. As these players are particularly reckless, I can envisage (en-visage, geddit?!) an early-campaign Major Wound stripping them of 1d3 points of APP, leaving them hovering at the door of death by disfigurement. But what does this mean? 

Well, it means that the player characters perhaps ought to head to the Salamonis School of Decorum and Ettiquette for some APP training. And it means I should have used Elric! characteristic generation, which I remember as being 2d6+6 right down the line. But in terms of being reduced to zero APP, I see two options. 

Option one is to interpret a Major Wound that reduces APP to zero as a catastrophic fatal wound (sword through face kind of thing) regardless of remaining HP. "Yes, I know your character still has just under half his HP remaining, but that sword stroke chopped his face clean off. Sorry." 

Option two is the Call of Cthulhu solution. Having APP reduced to zero causes permanent destruction of the character's personality, and control of the character passes into the hands of the Referee. The character is 'dead' as a player character. Incidentally, it is not the ugliness itself that causes this, but the damage to the character's sense of self.

Are there any other ways of explaining character 'death' through APP loss? Have you ever had a character 'die' through ugliness in your game?

Tuesday 7 January 2014

Wish fulfillment

Well, that seemed to work like magic. Yesterday I wrote, "My Gazetteers are falling to bits - when will they hit D&D Classics?"

And the answer is... Today

So, making sure that I get the wording exactly right - you never no what aspect of the ritual is responsible for the success of the spell: "My Creature Crucible books are falling to bits - when will they hit D&D Classics?"

Monday 6 January 2014

Making Peace with .PDFs

I was a long time seeing the light, I confess. I have owned gaming books in .pdf form for a few years now, but always preferred a real, professionally produced hardcopy. I had never got on with any form of extended reading on a screen. A newspaper article, a blog post - fine. An academic paper, a rulebook, or even an adventure... no, I need something like that in my hands. I need to be able to flick back and forth, to hold a finger in a page and check the index, and all the rest. The gaming .pdfs I bought, I bought because hardcopies were prohibitively expensive (whether to buy or to ship). I printed the parts I wanted, and rest was left largely unread. I accumulated a large number of unread 'books', while my preference for hardcopy led me to spend too much money on eBay replacing what I once owned, and buying what I never had the disposable income to afford in the days of pocket money.


Several things have changed my mind.

First was the increasing availability of classic gaming material exclusively in .pdf form. There was the launch of D&D Classics, which turned my DriveThruRPG/RPGNow habit into something more like an addiction. I finally splashed out on the Classic Traveller CD-ROMs. They are the best value gaming products in existence. Excepting the free stuff, of course. And then there is the free stuff - things like Stars Without Number, Labyrinth Lord, etc.

Second was the fact that I bought myself a tablet. It wasn't reading on a screen that was the problem. It was reading on a laptop or desktop computer. A monitor is not the ideal platform for reading a book - who would choose to read a book on their TV? But a light-weight tablet that can be held in one hand, set on the arm of a chair, or even read in bed with the light off? Suddenly I found that I had a means of engaging with those .pdf files I owned without printing them out. But that did bring me closer to using them at the table, where, for me at least, paper is still king.

So, for Christmas, I bought myself a pretty heavy duty comb-binder.

And so, armed with this, do I replace my ageing (rust-stained) originals with pristine electronic copies and the means to make a relatively durable book? A book that lies flat on the table - for gaming purposes all books should be comb or spiral bound! Is there any value in the originals as things, objects of which I am too precious to use them comfortably and regularly? My Gazetteers are falling to bits - when will they hit D&D Classics?