Wednesday 11 September 2019

Uncaring Cosmos

I will soon - hopefully - be getting a B/X D&D (or at the players' end, Labyrinth Lord as the pdfs are free) game up and running, playing via voice chat on Discord. I'll admit to some nervousness, as while I've run games online for people I already knew, I'm only been a player in online games with people I know only through their online personas. As a face-to-face GM, I rely so much on watching the players - are they excited, are they paying attention, as they exchanging glances. But that's a post for another day.

This post is simply to direct your attention to the cool "British Old School" blog Uncaring Cosmos, which not only covers some of my favourite games, it also looks cool. Check it out.

Friday 9 August 2019

Look, Robot: Stanislavski Vs Brecht In Tabletop Roleplaying

I was looking for Greg Costikyan's Bestial Acts, his sketch of a 'Brechtian' RPG, but instead came across this interesting essay by Grant Howitt, Stanislavski Vs Brecht In Tabletop Roleplaying. I especially like the fact that it begins, "This is going to get pretty wanky, here, so brace yourselves", before thinking seriously about what we are doing, and what we should be trying to do, when we play our PCs. This includes section titles such as "Play your PC like an NPC" and "Don’t compromise your character’s motivations, but do get them into trouble". I certainly don't agree with everything, and find the closing passage to be inimical to 'old school' style play. 
"Remember that time you had fought your way down to the bottom of the dungeon, and you were low on healing potions and all injured and you saw a dragon in front of you, laying on its hoard, eyes glinting through the thick darkness? And collectively, even though your characters and tired and beaten up and abused and could easily go home, hire an army, come back and kill this thing with minimum risk, you say – “Fuck it, let’s do this. Imagine the stories.”"
I mean, in my book, that's a TPK right there. And a deserved TPK, in which the players have made decisions aware of the risks (and potential rewards), rather than something sprung on the players and their PCs by a poor GM. Trusting a GM to fudge in order to make a good story is corrosive to the 'game'. There are, I presume, systems which would facilitate and reward these kind of decisions, but for me, the important point is that it is the contract of the game and its procedures that does this work. And, why can't trying to recruit an army willing to venture into the depths of a terrible dungeon be an adventure in itself?

Nevertheless, the essay is an interesting read for a Friday afternoon.     

Tuesday 30 July 2019

Social Status in AFF

Okay, you've assigned points to SKILL, STAMINA, and LUCK (and MAGIC)[1]. You've assigned your Special Skill points and selected your Talent. If you are that way inclined you have selected your Spells or Miracles[2]. You've thought up a name, a description, and you've done the most boring bit of any character creation process - you've gone shopping. Your Advanced Fighting Fantasy 2e Hero has the expertise and equipment and is ready to Dungeoneer!

But wait. What's this? Social Status?

Heroes start with a Social Status of between 0-6 (chosen as per character concept), with 7 and 8 available to starting Heroes who take the appropriate Talents.

What's this for? Do the GOBLINS in the Forest of Doom care whether or not my Adventurer is a dirt farmer from Hick Town or the son of King Salamon himself? Well, actually, they just might. But yes, I'll concede, as far as the rules go, Social Status isn't of any great importance.  In fact, the only place I can find a mention of using it is on p51, in the Social Actions - Reactions[3] section, which reads:
"Social class should also be taken into account if the difference between the two parties is more than 3 or so. A beggar talking to a Lord may well get an unfavourable reaction, but a Lord talking to a beggar will be very different!"
So all a bit loose and freeform. And "3 or so" seems like a rather large gap to begin with; the difference in social rank between a 'senior priest' and a 'master craftsman' ought have some effect in most pseudo-Medieval settings, even if the difference in Social Status is only 2.

But it *could* be used by enterprising Directors to add an impression of depth to their campaigns. First, and most obviously, Social Status could be used as a modifier in social situations. So you're asking your Heroes to test their Leadership, their Etiquette, their Bargain, their Con[4] Special Skill? Surely all of these could be influenced by a PCs Social Status? I wouldn't recommend rolling against Social Status, unless you want failure to be the norm - and perhaps that's right, that leveraging your Social Status is something that can only be reliably done by people of the knightly classes and above. But as the rules suggest, the power of social rank to affect a situation is relative: a Sir Therfax can reliably browbeat a peasant, but a king can impress his will upon the Sir Therfax. It is also not simply one directional. Horgun the dockworker has a much better chance of making useful contacts in the Block & Tackle Inn than does Sir Therfax.

So the rules are right, difference in Social Status matters, and should be applied on a case-by-case basis to 'social' Special Skill tests. Sometimes the Heroes Social Status will be being measured against that of an NPC[5]. Sometimes the bar will be set by the setting - a Director can assign different 'Social Status' scores to different parts of a city (or even different parts of a Castle, a Palace, or a Temple). So a knightly hero (Social Status 7) might have +3 modifier when attempting to impress their will upon a the town clerk (Social Status 4). But such a character roleplayed as leaning on the little people might also might suffer a -4 modifier when attempting to make friends with a sergeant of the town watch. A few points on the dice can be a way to reinforce the colour of the setting. There is no reason why Social Status cannot be used to add more fun (yes, fun!) to the Hireling, Mass Combat, and Holdings rules in the Heroes Companion. It is up to the Players, through their choices, statements of intent, and description of their Heroes' actions[6] to determine quite how their Social Status would effect the game world, and for the Director to make a judgement

[1] I've written before (and I'm not the first to say so), that AFF, being such a simple, robust system, is well suited to the addition of extra 'stats', or the replacement of the existing stats (usually MAGIC, but I could imagine replacing LUCK too). Stellar Adventures does this, adding TECH for Robot characters (which interestingly replaces LUCK) and PSIONICS for Space Monks and other Psychics (replacing MAGIC). Other examples from the solo gamebooks would be FEAR (House of Hell), HONOUR (Sword of the Samurai), WILLPOWER (Beneath Nightmare Castle), EVIL (Dead of Night), though I'm pretty sure that there's others scattered through the books. Add whatever is thematically appropriate for your setting and campaign. CORRUPTION? Go ahead. SANITY? Sure, and get all 1920s pulp hero investigating what needs be done by renaming SKILL 'COMPETENCE' and STAMINA 'GRIT' too.

[2] Actually, the magical abilities granted through worship of the gods of Titan are described as 'powers' in a section entitled 'Priestly Abilities', but I like 'Miracles' so that's what they are in my game!

[3] AFF2e has no set mechanism for 'Reactions'. I use something very like the 2d6 Reaction Roll of Classic D&D, adjusted by whether the NPC/Monster disposition is Friendly, Neutral, Unfriendly, or Hostile - the categories given to us in Out of the Pit. I tacked it onto the end of my Viscera! supplement.

[4] And why are there no Persuade or Orate Special Skills? Want your Hero to have one - write it in! There is, please note, a Silvertongued Talent which adds a whopping +3 (on a 2d6 curve, that's a LOT) to these kind of social skill tests. 

[5] Note that I advise that Directors do not listen to the AFF2e rulebook here. Way back in 2015 I wrote:
"AFF is meant to be a simple game. The master merchant should have SKILL 4 STAMINA 5, which adequately represents him as a combatant, and on the same index card you scrawl 'PCs attempting to bargain with Marco Columbo suffer a -4 penalty to their effective SKILL'. Instead of opposed tests - which require NPCs to be statted out as if they were PCs - non-combat 'contests' are then conducted as unopposed tests based only on the PC's SKILL and Special Skills, plus or minus modifiers, with the capability of the NPC to frustrate the aims of the PC being expressed as a simple modifier. The NPCs are treated just like any other feature of the world of Titan that might affect the PC's chances of achieving their goals." 
[6] i.e. Roleplaying, but so many take that to mean more speaking in a funny voice than making choices on behalf of your character. You don't have to put on a posh voice to have your adventuring prince bully the town guard, you just need to say that that is what he intends to do and describe how he will do so. And then we might roll the dice.  

Saturday 6 July 2019

Speaking of Random Tables

The other day I mentioned the importance of random tables in generating a dynamic world in which the GM can feel like they are also playing the game. 

Well, popping up one my 'reading list' is Konsumterra of Elfmaids & Octopi with "d100 Horrible Dungeon Decor". And some of the entries really are fantastically horrible - in a good way (I guess) - that will really make your 'underworld' a little more than a narrow stone corridor that is handily the dimensions you've assigned to the squared paper that you are using.

This is not quite the sort of random table that produces a 'living world' - that's more the domain of tables designed to be used in play, at the table. But it (along with the vast quantities of other tables that Konsumterra produces) are a great way to kickstart your old, idea-free GM head.   

Friday 5 July 2019

The GM is a player too...

There is always a steady trickle of people landing on this blog via my 'Pathetic Aesthetic' post. I sometimes check and see if someone new is misinterpreting it as a manifesto to be a 'dick GM', if someone new is reading the title (and the title alone) as if I hate 'Old School' games, if someone new can't spot the (what I thought was) obvious self-deprecation and exaggerated partiality, etc. Sometimes it takes me back to old discussions that I had forgotten, such as this one on the now defunct Porky's Expanse. In there, I noticed that I'd make a contribution to the comment section, which I think is worth repeating here:

"We often forget though that the GM is a player too..." I agree. And funnily enough I'd make a case that games that don't shy away from the PCs 'enjoying' pathetic fates are best for reminding us about this. NOT because these pathetic fates are the result of 'dick GMing' determining pathetic fates by GM fiat. But because, by making the fate of the PCs a result of the interaction between the mechanics, the setting, and player choice, the GM can enjoy the unfolding play without worrying about trying to rescue the PCs or put them back on track to the correct solution.

And as for 'awesome'. I've got nothing against the word. I want *some* things in my games to be awesome. And when the PCs come across these things, take part in them, or even are them, I want there to be some sense of awe."

I think that stuff like random tables, wandering 'monsters', rules for 'getting lost', reaction rolls, morale rules etc. all make the game dynamic for all the participants. In fact, I'd say that a key task for any GM engaging in world building is putting together the random tables - of encounters, events, NPCs, reactions etc. that will make the game a living thing in play. 

Wednesday 3 July 2019

Fighting Fighting Fest 3

Unfortunately I can't go - I'll be at the Wales v Ireland Rugby World Cup warm up match in Cardiff that weekend. I'll not be playing, though I am Welsh qualified, having played for a club in Cardiff for a few years, so I best take my boots.

YOU should go to Fighting Fantasy Fest, though.

Monday 1 July 2019

Advanced Fighting Fantasy: Everything!

Everything! Cheap!

And it is for CHARITY!

Bundle of Holding have two Advanced Fighting Fantasy offers on for the next 7 days. The first contains everything you'd need to play long, varied fantasy campaigns:

The second, 'More Fighting Fantasy', not only contains supplements that allow you to play AFF in the hellish dimensions of The Pit or 'In Spaaaaaace!', but also several *all new* books, notably Return to the Pit and Travels in Arion:

Get the lot!

Monday 24 June 2019

AFF: I'm a man of many talents

...but posting more than every few weeks seems to be beyond me!

AFF starting PCs are, by contrast, much more competent - they're called Heroes by the game, after all. They have a broad range of (Special) Skills, and a usually able to get by by their 'raw' SKILL alone. If you have three players around the table (AFF works best, in my opinion, with small parties) chances are their Heroes will have lots of overlapping competencies. So what sets them apart?

Role-playing, you fools!

No, sorry. There is something else. AFF2e adds Talents into the mix. These weren't found in Dungeoneer (the first edition of AFF), but an embryonic talent system was found in the gamebook series - I know for certain they were to be found in Jim Bambra and Stephen Hand's Dead of Night, and that something very similar was found in Jamie Thompson and Mark Smith's Sword of the Samurai[1]. Indeed, the Talents from Dead of Night are translated into AFF in the Heroes' Companion, but the core rulebook lists 32 different Talents.

These range from Ambidextrous, Animal Friend, and Arcane... through to Swashbuckler[2], Trapmaster, and Weaponmaster. Not all of these are equally powerful. Many have an effect in combat - and AFF games will likely involve plenty of that - others, such as Status (punchline - the Aristocrats!), Natural Linguist, or Learned will find use in other situations... and the Director should pay heed to this. A player choosing these for their Hero should be assured by the Director that they will come into play at some point - but equally players should be reminded to *make decisions* on behalf of their Heroes that will bring their Special Skills and Talents into action.

As with Special Skills, there is no reason why a Director, perhaps in collaboration with their players, should not introduce more Talents, using the existing Talents as a guide. Talents could certainly be re-skinned and given flavourful, evocative names. There is no reason why, for example, Armour Training could be renamed Vymornan Legionary, though players and Director need to be on the same 'cheat sheet' when it comes to understanding what each Talent encompasses.     

Players choose one Talent for their Hero at character creation. Non-humans might start with other Talents intrinsic to their species - Dwarfs and Elves both start with Dark Seeing. The Rhino-Man, given as an example of creating new Hero species in Chapter 11: Optional Rules comes with both intrinsic armour and weapon as Talents, alongside Strongarm from the standard list.

Talents in AFF are one of the little gems hidden in the system. Their nothing special, in themselves; they're not complex, or innovative, you don't read the list and go 'wow', but in play they can be used to effectively add character to your characters - I don't like players building intricate backstories for their Heroes, but using their Talent to give us a glimpse of their Hero's history? Yes, absolutely. 

[1] One of the things that AFF has going for it is not just the material in Arion Games' own line of books, but the vast back catalogue of gamebooks (and fan created material). Some inspiration can be taken from the way in which the 'dead' Director (keeping with AFF terminology) of the gamebooks offers idiosyncratic methods of resolving actions and encounters, and lots of inspiration can be drawn from the straight, high-strength, system-neutral flavour - including great black and white illustrations that look great on the player-facing side of a Director's screen. Some of the later books might be a bit pricey, but the first 30 or so are normally pretty cheap. 

[2] Stellar Adventures (AFF in space! - a complete game in its own right which does not need AFF2e to be played) does away with the Swashbuckler Talent and allows all characters to use their Dodge Special Skill to reduce damage. This is one of a number of (minor) improvements that Stellar Adventures introduces to the AFF system.

Tuesday 11 June 2019

AFF: I've got (Special) Skills...

...they're multiplying!

So sang the famous Ogre minstrel, Jhon Revolta.

Luckily, in AFF2e there isn't quite the proliferation of Skills that can be found in some games (I'm looking at you, iterations of BRP). Plus, having Hero competency based off a generic SKILL score rather than finely sliced into different skill ratings means that a PC doesn't end up being extremely able in one area while incapable in another closely related area (though I am of the opinion that when this does happen it is as much a problem of the players (including the GM) as it is the system).

Nevertheless, in the AFF2e core rulebook there are a whole bunch of Special Skills, grouped into Combat, Movement, Stealth, Knowledge, and Magical. It is here, with the Skill groupings, that I sometimes start thinking of AFF as a kind of 'Junior RuneQuest' (there's also some bits of Titan that suggest a RuneQuest influence). These grouping have no effect on the game, but can help players when choosing to allocate Special Skill points, organise Special Skills on the character sheet, and might point the way to simplified or player-defined Special Skill categories.

More Skills are added in the expansion books Blacksand!, the Hero's Companion, The Titan Herbal, etc. There is no reason why a player could not discard this list and simply assign points to 'areas of expertise' (in negotiation with the GM to make sure nothing too broad or narrow is selected) or even to 'sources of power' - want to have a PC that can accomplish things through their 'Love', their 'Curiosity', or their 'Beauty'? Well, why not make it as Special Skill and bring it into the 2d6 resolution mechanism - AFF2e is a pretty loose game, with resolution mechanics that are pretty 'abstract', so why not? If this doesn't sit right, these things could always be added as custom Talents (see next post).

Special Skills are rated between 1 and 6, with the rulebook saying that "A special skill of 1 point indicates someone who has had basic training, 2 points indicates fully trained, 3 points can be considered an expert, and 4 or more a master" (AFF2e p 25). This sits uneasily with the standard task resolution mechanism which is to roll under SKILL + Special Skill (or roll + SKILL + Special Skill if using the alternative 'roll under'. As such, I have thought carefully about the ways to understand SKILL and Special Skill in AFF2e. I'll not rewrite those arguments here, but will point you to the appropriate blog posts:

Skill Rolls in AFF2e (November 2014)

HWWJD: More on AFF2e Skill Tests (November 2014)

AFF2e: The Virtues of Asymmetry (June 2015)

AFF2e House Rule: Capped 'effective' SKILL (August 2014)   

These posts preempt much of what I have to say with regard to the 'Game Rules' chapter of the rulebook, in terms of simplifying (and, in a some senses, expanding) on how to handle Skill rolls in AFF2e.

Next up: Talents.

Thursday 23 May 2019

AFF: Your Adventure Starts Here (Part One)

I picked up the Advanced Fighting Fantasy (AFF) 2e rulebook with a view to, as promised, write a 'review'. I could write a chapter by chapter description of the content, but that wouldn't be all that much help. And I realised that it is actually quite difficult it is to write a 'review' of a book with which you are intimately familiar, as surprise and novelty that highlights in your mind the distinctive features of the book have long faded. 

So let's start at the beginning. 'Fighting Fantasy' is the name of a series of gamebooks. You know this. But keep it in mind when thinking about the mechanics of Advanced Fighting Fantasy 2e. A Fighting Fantasy gamebook character sheet looks like this:

Just a handful of characteristics, SKILL, STAMINA, and LUCK, a space to write down your characters' equipment, their gold, and their Provisions. And that's enough for perfectly usable 'lite' multiplayer game, especially back in 1984 when 'Fighting Fantasy: the Introductory Role-playing Game' was released. As the gamesbooks had introduced a generation (in the UK and beyond) to fantasy gaming, chances were that anyone up for playing Fighting Fantasy as a tabletop RPG was already familiar with the rules and jargon. 

Advanced Fighting Fantasy adds to character complexity. Obviously. When I'm flipping through a rulebook in my friendly neighbourhood hobby shop one of the first things I do is find the example character sheet. I'm of the opinion that character sheets are a good proxy for complexity/crunch, especially the degree of complexity that is 'player facing'. I tend to play with players who don't have a background in RPGs, so this matters to me.

Let's begin this series proper - a review of everything AFF2e - with a discussion of character creation. What makes an Advanced Fighting Fantasy character? 12 pages; character creation takes up 12 pages of the AFF2e core rulebook. Character creation in AFF2e is a process of design, not random generation[1]. There is an alternative method offered in Chapter 11 - Optional Rules that involves rolling and allocating dice to generate the basic stat-line and the number of Special Skill points available. Given the granularity of each step up in SKILL (or SKILL+Special Skill) I would hesitate to recommend this optional rule.

Starting characters (Heroes in AFF lingo) have a SKILL of between 4 and 7, STAMINA between 8 and 16, LUCK between 8 and 11, and MAGIC between 0 and 7. What do each of these mean? Well, putting it in terms familiar to players of the original fantasy RPG, STAMINA are equivalent to Hit Points, LUCK is something like a (finite) Saving Throw resource, and SKILL and MAGIC are... 

...well, it is best to think of these two characteristics as fulfilling the same role as the concept of 'Level'. Especially SKILL. A Hero with SKILL 7 is just much better at everything than a Hero with SKILL 4 - on an unmodified test the former succeeds 60% of the time and the latter just 20%. This applies to almost everything risky that the Hero might do. This strikes some people as being quite odd, even as their Level 7 Wizard has more Hit Points, a greater chance to hit, and far better saving throws that the professional soldiers they might hire as retainers. SKILL is a game abstraction, a measure of overall adventuring competence, and in my opinion AFF2e works better when you 'lean into' this idea.

MAGIC can be understood as something skin to 'casting level', acting as a measure of a Hero's competence and, depending on the type of magic, determining the size of the Hero's reservoir of magical power in the form of Magic Points (MP). It can also be used in place of SKILL when the test is of a Hero's knowledge (p55). If, as a Director (the AFF term for GM) you have players with Heroes with MAGIC higher than SKILL, it is worth thinking very liberally about this, and expanding this to any tasks for which knowledge, intelligence, insight etc. play a role that is as, or more, significant than physical attributes.    

Abstraction. Abstraction. Abstraction. Have I said it enough? MAGIC isn't intelligence, or wisdom, or willpower. SKILL isn't strength, or agility, or reaction speed, or hand-eye co-ordination. MAGIC and SKILL are all of those but also none of those. These scores are not in themselves descriptions of anything precise or concrete about the Hero. They are numbers that allows the player and Director to use an impartial dice roll to determine the outcome of risky situations.  
And LUCK. LUCK is the what I think of as the Fighting Fantasy characteristic. Above I likened it to a Saving Throw, as it is the characteristic that a Hero must test - via the iconic Test of LUCK - to avoid terrible consequences. But unlike Saving Throws (or SKILL, for that matter) it is a diminishing resource, being reduced by one each time it is called upon, regardless of success or failure. Taking a Test of LUCK is a choice made by the player; they can opt to take the consequences rather than tempt the patience of Sindla, Goddess of Luck and Fate. But as a choice, it can also be called upon, to maximise or minimise damage in combat, or in place of SKILL when a player wants to give their Hero the chance of succeeding through 'dumb luck'. As a Director, I encourage clever and inventive uses of LUCK. It is a diminishing resource which, unlike STAMINA, cannot be restored simply with a good night's sleep and chewing on a mouthful of preserved meat[2], so if a player is willing to spend their LUCK, let them.

Remember that I said that SKILL applies to almost everything? We've already seen where the 'almost' is to be found; that in certain circumstances a Hero might rely on their MAGIC or LUCK characteristics. But even when it is SKILL that is being tested, that's not the be all and end all. Not all situations are equal - the book provides a whole series of example modifiers to different types of SKILL tests (I'll discuss these later) - and not all Heroes are equal either. Some are especially skilled at the use of swords, or bows, or sneaking, or bargaining, or have knowledge of law, or religion, or inhuman languages, or, or, or... These distinctions are made by way of Special Skills. Which I'll discuss in the next post.


[1] I'm going to try to avoid getting side-tracked by discussions of the first edition of AFF, which did involve dice rolling in the generation of SKILL, STAMINA and LUCK. While understanding what didn't work well in AFF1e (and this is one thing that didn't) might help us understand certain design choices in AFF2e, it doesn't much help explain why YOU should be playing AFF2e now, in 2019.

[2] Regaining LUCK is not particularly well codified in the rulebook - p48 advises that Directors allow Heroes to regain their LUCK at the end of an adventure, and provides a few examples of exceptional events that might prompt to Director to award a point of LUCK. I have thought about having restoring LUCK during an adventure be dependent on a Hero taking the consequences of a player defined 'flaw' or 'trouble', to take a little inspiration from the appropriately named Fate RPG.  

Monday 20 May 2019

Advanced Fighting Fantasy: Turn to 1

I am a massive fan of Fighting Fantasy. The Warlock of Firetop Mountain was my entry point into adventure gaming, Titan was the first 'world book' I ever read, and I could (and do) spend hours poring over the monsters in Out of the Pit. Fighting Fantasy: The Introductory Roleplaying Game *might* have been (probably was) the first RPG I ever ran, and I picked up the original version of Advanced Fighting Fantasy at the same time I was playing Mentzer D&D and getting into, among other things, WFRP. 

If you search this blog, you'll find all too many entries on Fighting Fantasy - playthroughs of the gamebooks, discussions of how Titan has inspired/coloured my gaming, house rules for AFF2e (including my little 'supplement' Viscera!), and pages and pages of actual play reports.

But AFF doesn't get enough love, as far as I can see, so consider this the beginning of an Advanced Fighting Fantasy love-in. I'm going spend the next few posts reviewing the Advanced Fighting Fantasy books - obviously from the perspective of a (critical) fan. *And* I will start running a new campaign of AFF soon, too.

May your STAMINA never fail, but if it does Test Your LUCK!

First up (probably in multiple parts, as this will involve discussion of and reflection on game mechanics): the AFF2e core rulebook.

Thursday 16 May 2019

Sources of Power

As part of my job - I'm a sociologist - I was thinking about 'power' the other day... and I filed a way a few thoughts as to how this relates to roleplaying games. 

What are those numbers on the character sheet? They are the numbers that determine you PCs capacity to interact with the game world. What is power? Thinking about it (very!) simply, it is the capacity to bring your will to bear on the world. So what a character sheet is, mechanically, is a inventory of the sources of power available to a PC. It really can be that simple. And once you start thinking like that, the sources of power to which you assign a numerical value (or whatever, depending on the resolution system/s of your game) can be, well, *anything*. Give a score to one PC in Strength to exert power in the game world. Give another PC a score in Persuasion, and give a third PC a score in Patriotism, and the way in which those PCs are able to shape the game world, solve problems, approach the situations that you, as a GM place in front of them changes in dramatic and interesting ways.

Which is to say I'm finally working out what many other people have long before me, and is attracting me to games such as PDQ, Heroquest, and Fate (and FUDGE, which has long imagined that different PCs will have different stat lines), and thinking also about the ways in which I can bring this to bear on more 'traditional' games. 'Light' games, naturally - these thoughts are very closely related to the fact that I can't see myself having the time and energy to run 'crunchy' games any time soon.

Thursday 4 April 2019

Products of Your Imagination


Imagine that I had £80-£100 to spend on RPG books. Imagine that Runequest: Glorantha was oh so tempting.

But imagine.

Imagine that I own Heroquest: Glorantha.

Imagine that I also already owned Runequest. Runequests! Runequest 2. Runequest 3. Mongoose Runequest II. Runequest 6.

Imagine that I haven't played any of these Runequests in ages, and that when I have played d100 fantasy in the past few years it has been using OpenQuest and Magic World.

Imagine that this is a symptom of my changing tastes when it comes to the kind of games that I run. That I want to run. That I can *imagine* successfully running.

Imagine if you could sum this developing taste up as 'relatively rules-lite, mostly traditional, but curious about games such as Heroquest, Fate, PDQ etc.' Imagine that my preferred campaign mode is some kind of sandbox play.

Now, imagine that you share these tastes. How you would spend this money - even just some of this money - on RPGs to avoid adding another Runequest to your shelves, and please let me know.

Wednesday 27 March 2019

The Procedural Adventure Game

I'd just like to direct you all to John B's post on what he means by the term Adventure Games, which captures a lot of what keeps drawing me back to classic D&D/OSR based games *even though* I'm not the greatest fan of some aspects of the mechanics. The procedures built into the game create a certain rhythm from which a story of adventure emerges *after the fact*. Of course, there is no reason why you can't 'proceduralise' other games which concentrate most of their mechanical energy not on 'the adventure' but on the regulating PC actions - as John B has done with Mythras. Anyway, here's a passage I particularly liked: 

"The "adventure" then is not the narrative the player-characters flow through towards an inevitable climax and resolution, but the procession of problems, challenges, etc. they face; the decisions and deliberations they make about what to do about each problem or challenge; and the procedures they enact as part of those decisions, and the consequences of all the above interacting with one another."

Monday 25 March 2019

Lack of Play / Let's Play!

I'm playing in a very good game of Scum and Villainy online - we manage a session once every three weeks or so. But gaming at home has seriously stalled. I'm going to need to run something myself, soon. And I'll have to make the jump to running a game online.

I love GMing, but I have, until now, only run games for people who I already know. Running a game for a group of strangers is different. Running a game for a group of strangers who I'm not going to sit down at a physical table with and establish the rapport that will, hopefully, have them forgive my missteps, mistakes, the occasional bad session, etc. is another thing entirely.

But I should jump in to test the water, finally. I'll probably run Advanced Fighting Fantasy 2e, because PCs start competent and robust and so we'll not end with a session 1 TPK, and because it is so spectacularly straightforward to run we won't end up digging through books looking for the correct procedure. If in doubt, roll 2d6 and interpret the results!
Who would be up for this? In order for it to work for me it'd be best to play on Monday evenings, probably starting about 8:30pm [edit: GMT]. I'd plump for an 'Allansian sandbox' campaign, but happy to go for other flavours, perhaps Stellar Adventures, in fact. I know that's a pretty empty pitch, but just gauging interest - if there are takers we could start next week, or in a fortnight. 

Leo Hartas' lovely colour map of Allansia

[Addendum: Click on the Advanced Fighting Fantasy 'label' to see actual play reports from previous games as well as my thoughts on how to best GM games using the system, and other miscellanea.] 

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?

Friday 25 January 2019

The Grog Pod

Found in my 'Draft' folder - this is probably about two years old:

"For the past few months I've been 'commuting' by train or car between my new home in Yorkshire and Cardiff, where I work. Until next week, at least...

Anyway, the long drives have given me the opportunity to listen to a few podcasts, something that I hadn't really done before. One that I've found particularly fun has been The Grognard Files,"

And that is where I left it. At that comma. I obviously wanted to say something more, something about how much I have enjoyed listening to The Grognard Files. And the instinct is just as true now. In fact, it is more true - while early Grog Pods were a nostalgic exploration of the UK gaming scene of the 1980s, of late the Grogs have been exploring newer games, including some with quite different design philosophies to (A)D&D, Runequest, Call of Cthulhu, Traveller etc. from 'back in the day'. I really need to get round to listening to their take on Heroquest (the RPG rather than the MB/GW boardgame), as it is just the kind of more narrative-y (that's not exactly what *I* mean, but it is the best word I can come up with right now) game that I'd like to wrap my head around - alongside games such as Fate and PDQ - especially as I went out and bought myself Heroquest: Glorantha and the 2-part Red Cow campaign. Hearing old grogs like Dirk getting to grips with a system like Heroquest might help me, just a little bit.

So I recommend a listen. But you've probably all already subscribed - when I started the draft I've just found The Grognard Files was a few podcasts old. I might have known about something before you did! But now, with 26 episodes (assuming this doesn't linger in my 'Draft' folder for another year or two), a successful convention, a 'zine, they hardly need a boost from a slowly re-animating blog.

Nevertheless - I raise my hat in appreciation.   

Thursday 24 January 2019

Roll for System Shock!

[A wizard did it]

In AD&D, you'd have to roll for 'System Shock' when resurrecting a character. I don't feel like I've lost a point of CON though...

This blog has been, if not dead, then very nearly dead for some time now. One measly post in 2018! And that was mostly to say you could watch me play rugby on live TV! 

Obviously I haven't been playing much. And, until recently, not all that much had changed since that post way back in spring 2018. Well, I am playing now - and as a player no less! - in an online game of Scum and Villainy. 

Playing in a game, rather than running a game, has allowed me to realise a few things. First is that any complaints that I might have about my players not learning the rules are a little hypocritical. I have the rulebook, I skim the pdf on my tablet, but without the responsibility for running the game looming on the horizon I have been able to get by thinking more about my character in the game world (Finn 'Vapour' Dyson, pilot of the Lazy Susan) than how the rules work. I wouldn't say that Scum and Villainy is a game that 'leans invisible', to borrow from S John Ross, but our GM Orlanth Rex has at the very least done the heavy lifting that allows me to concentrate my 'tactical play' on the decisions in the game world rather than on decisions in the game system

I other words, I have been allowed o enjoy roleplaying without the responsibility to do anything other than 'play well'. But scratching an itch rarely gets rid of the itch - often you just need to scratch more- and it has led me to wanting to jump back into DMing, GMing, Refereeing, Directing, whatever term you might prefer. So I think I'll have to start my own online game (or games), with people who have the patience for an out-of-practice games master with a preference for games from the lighter end of the crunch spectrum.  

So, consider me resurrected.