Repost: Review of Public Attitudes to Gaming

As a Christian who plays RPGs I thought it worth reposting the following review article on roleplaying and the public/media. I’m still very careful about who I tell about my roleplaying. With colleagues because I don’t want to face ridicule, with Christian friends because I don’t want to face suspicion. Which doesn’t mean I don’t tell either group, it’s just that I choose my confessors wisely.

http://rpgr.org/documents/rpg-research-documents/web-version/defamation-of-rpg

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Musing on Maps

Planning a tour in the alps

There is something incredibly satisfying about a map. The way symbols and signs promise wonderful landscapes and adventures untold. I can still vividly remember a geography lesson on map reading from my first year at secondary school some 33 years ago and the thrill of understanding how the whole thing fit together to give information. How hills were drawn, what the building on the canal was, how to find the nearest pub…

To this day there are few things I find more satisfying than buying a new map, opening it and studying it for possibilities; new hikes to plan, new routes to discover.

One of my earlier maps

And the RPG world is no different. There are some very clever people out there for whom I have nothing but admiration and respect regarding the superbly crafted maps they come up with. The website Cartographers’ Guild is a favourite haunt of mine when looking for mappy inspiration, and you only have to enter the terms “fantasy map” in Deviant Art to come up with some absolute masterpieces. In fact I joined the CG just to have download rights so that I can swipe maps for my own (personal) use.

One of my favourite formats, particularly for town and the like, is the cutaway. One of the best examples of this is Domigoron’s Town of Berem, which shows a delightful little seaside hill town. It’s half-way between map and sketch and gives me as a GM a real thrill and tons of ideas regarding how to implement it in an adventure.

When I’m buying scenarios or flipping through RPG magazines, it’s often the maps and the artwork that catch the eye rather than the story itself. But is it all necessary? I found myself needing to come up with a map recently for a wilderness adventure that I want to send my players on. I ended up throwing it together in 5 minutes using Google Docs. It has all the pertinent information (that the map needs), it’s clear and it’s fast. Minimalist. But it wouldn’t sell my scenario if I were to try to market it. At the end of the day, most of the maps that we see are little more than eye-candy for the GM that don’t even make it to the players, who get some poorly sketch-it-as-you-go version.

But I don’t want the mappy goodness to stop.

The map for my latest adventure with all the necessary information for play.

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The Adventurer’s Prayer

Too good not to share. Came across this passage this morning in our devotional. My wife immediately identified it as a 3,000 year-old prayer against GMs 😉

The Aventurer’s Prayer – original image stolen from Andrew Olson

In case you can’t read the text:

God, get me out of here, away from this evil;
protect me from these vicious people.
All they do is think up new ways to be bad;
they spend their days plotting war games.
They practice the sharp rhetoric of hate and hurt,
speak venomous words that maim and kill.
God, keep me out of the clutch of these wicked ones,
protect me from these vicious people;
Stuffed with self-importance, they plot ways to trip me up,
determined to bring me down.
These crooks invent traps to catch me
and do their best to incriminate me.

Psalm 140:1-5 (The Message)

 

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You Really Can’t Make This Stuff Up

I’ve just been surfing around for inspiration for a castle in the north of Ellesworn in Legend and stumbled over Fortress Hohentwiel in south-western Germany. It’s built on the top of an extinct volcano.

The English Wikipedia entry isn’t terribly exciting, but the German one is brilliant, full of useful information, maps and pics.

They’ve even got maps of the place with a key. Who needs to buy this stuff from DriveThruRPG?

Bastions:
A. Alexanders Bastion
B. Karls Bastion
C. Eugens Bastion
D. Ludwigs Bastion
E. Friedrichs Bastion
F. Dukes Bastion
G. Small Bastion
H. Rondel Augusta

Lower Fortress:
1. Alexanders Gate
2. Ludwigs Gate
3. Barack Watch-house
4. Eugens Gate
5. Sergeant’s Quarters
6. Press Building
7. Quarters and und Cart Store
8. Apothecary, Regimental Surgeon, Stables
9. Sutlership
10. Troop Barracks
11. Cistern (covered)
12. Baker
13. Lookout between lower and upper fortress

Upper Fortress:
14. Drawbridge
15. Sentry Post
16. Bridge
17. Smithy
18. Newgate with Bridge
19. Powder Store
20. Original Abbey with Cloister, later Barracks
21. Parade ground
22. Wilhelms Watchtower
23. School and Rectory
24. Chancellery
25. Eberhards Watchtower
26. New Building
27. Church with Tower
28. Prison
29. Council Chambers
30. Prince’s palace with inner courtyard, cistern accomodation and stables
31. Band-House
32. Arsenal
33. ‚Altane‘ (Highest point oft he castle)
34. Watchtower
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Creating the Illusion of Tension

An innocent maid? I think not!

We had a mammoth session on Sunday – about 7 hours. And it was also one of the best games in recent memory. Why? Because it was tense. The party had something to lose, and a very real possibility of failing. The fact that I didn’t even score a wound on any of them was irrelevant. Obviously creating tension can’t work all the time, people will get used to it and it will lead to complacency. But on Sunday it worked.

We started with a tricky battle; two wyverns attacked as the party was crossing a river. Those in the river were stuck, the others had to make successful Riding rolls in order to get their horses under control. My devious plot element was that this was all an excuse to separate the princess that the party was escorting from the rest of them.

After several rounds with the wyverns swooping past at speed, picking up guards and dropping them, being missed badly by arrows, they took down first one and then the other with variants of the entangle spell. Once immobilised they were easy pickings.

Then it was onto the trail of the princess, whom they eventually found in a bloody heap. Next bit of tension: Is she alive? Yes, but in a bad state after having been severely mauled by a large wolf. Next bit of tension: What sort of wolf?

The call of the wild

What now? She was obviously past healing (SW requires that all mundane and minor magic healing take place within an hour of the injury taking place) and needed taking to a healer. Next bit of tension: Can we get her back alive? Healing rolls please.

Back at the monastery they started from and it’s a question of waiting for natural healing. A slow process. Someone comes up with the idea of testing her with silver; she flinches. Next bit of tension: Can we find a cure for lycanthropy?

The monks find an ancient manuscript outlining three components which could be combined to form a cure; an aliquot of quicksilver, wolfsbane from the grave of a saint and some blood of the werewolf that infected the victim, taken whilst it is in human form. It must be administered before the second full-moon as a werewolf. Next bit of tension: Can we find the ingredients for the cure, and can we find them in time?

The first task the party undertook was to find the blood of the werewolf. Returning to the scene of the attack they tried to track the wolf that attacked the princess. Despite having psychic tracking it wasn’t certain that they could find something to track them with (Next bit of tension).

Forest CabinEventually they picked up the spoor and followed it to a remote forest cabin. En route they came across a girl in a red cloak carrying a basket to her grandmother. Do we enter the cabin with the girl or not? How to we make sure it’s the right werewolf? How do we get blood from it whilst it’s in human form? (Next bits). It came to the inevitable fight in the cabin after the it became obvious that the girl was the werewolf responsible and I twice came within a dice roll of having her escape through the window (Next bit of tension). Finally she was subdued, but wouldn’t turn back, escaped her bonds once, but come dawn she reverted to human form.

Although I wouldn’t have allowed them to fail all of these tests (the princess wouldn’t have died en route to the monastery for example), there were/are many instances where they could have/can screw up. Part of the set-up was a combination of clear goals (what to find), player investment in the solution (the princess is a PC turned NPC and one that they have been escorting for several sessions rather than a featureless NPC) and the very real chance of failure. There were some lucky rolls, mostly on their side, and some bizarre situations where I was burning through several Bennies a round, but almost certainly one of the Best Games Ever!

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Mr. Moffat and the Art of Campaign Design

Bit of a mouthful the title, I know, but I’m directing a few grey cells at the moment to the question of campaign design as we slowly, incrementally head back to the gaming table after our long summer hiatus.

Mr. Moffat? Well I’d imagine that most people from the gaming world are familiar with the writer of the present Doctor Who series at least by name. He seems to polarise the fans a little, some hate him and others adore his work. I’m afraid I’m in the adoration camp. I think his conclusion of the Amy Pond arc was fitting and masterful.

Which brings me to the point I want to make – story arcs. As I see it there are essentially three ways of running a non-sandbox campaign:

  1. Stringing chapters together in a campaign

    A series of unlinked adventures

  2. A series of semi-linked adventures with touches of story arc
  3. A series of linked adventures along a story arc

Option 1 is the lazy one; just pick up or write a number of scenarios or adventures loosely hung together in a particular setting.

Option 2 is what I’m calling the ‘Moffat option’ – a series of episodes in the same setting, some connected, others not, but with parts of an overriding story arc connecting them, such as the River Song story in Doctor Who. This happens to be one of my favourite story lines ever in DW, partly due to the superb tongue-in-cheek characterisation by Alex Kingston. She doesn’t crop up in every episode and where she does, her story isn’t always the main part of the plot. But there have been other examples of this – David Tennant’s Bad Wolf, the Drumming and the Crack to name but three. Obviously Mr. Moffat wasn’t the first person to come up with this idea – episodic series are rife with such story arcs, but his are better than most (IMO).

Crack in Space and Time

Option 3 is a custom written single story line with little or no deviation from the central tale with one adventure more or less seamlessly fuguing into the next. This requires a lot of custom work from the GM or the ability to work on the fly (which I don’t possess).

I’m struggling at the moment between options 2 and 3. As a GM with a story to tell, my natural inclination is to go with The Moff – a series of semi-autonomous adventures with an over-reaching story that impinges on the players every now and then leading to a grand finale. On the other hand, I recognise the desire of my players for a more obvious story line that they can follow. My ‘touches’ are proving to be too subtle and in the absence of a lot of between-game discussion are tending to be missed. Story arc light works well when there is a lot of discussion between episodes, as there is in the online Doctor Who community (or so my wife informs me ;)).

So my inventive energy is going to be directed at pushing myself from option 2 to option 3 without breaking the game.

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Encounter Inspiration

Normally as a GM I avoid random encounters like the plague – I’m too much of a control freak with regard to my adventures, meaning that I’m also a veteran rail-roader (though I’m trying hard not to be). Today though I was recapping on Wiggy’s PP&SS and then came across Unofficial Game’s seed table concept. The basic premise is that for an encounter you roll d8, d6 and d4, with the dice dictating Where?, What? and Weird! respectively with special events if you roll any double or triple numbers.

Frank Hong’s “Dragon Age”

What I really like about it is the way that it adds character to the encounters; it’s not just a bunch of random orcs (though I’m proud to say that as  a GM I haven’t used orcs since I was a teenager), but there’s terrain in there too and a random element.

I think I want to add more What, have less Where and include a greater variety of Weird, so I’m going with d10/d8/d6 respectively. One thing I do note is that Unofficial Game’s Weird is a lot stronger than mine. Need to work on that a bit.

Borrowing from 50 Fathoms, encounters occur on days on which a face card is drawn.

Looking then at encounters in Legend’s Pagan Mountains then (with apologies to Unofficial for occasional plagiarism):

What? Roll d10

  1. Game
  2. 1d2 Giants
  3. 1d6 Dwarves
  4. 2d4 Bandits
  5. 1d3 Ogres
  6. 1d6 Wolves
  7. Game
  8. Gargoyles
  9. Hunters
  10. Wyvern

Where? Roll d8

  1. On a regular path
  2. In a boulder field
  3. On a mountaintop
  4. At a pass
  5. In a forest
  6. Cliff face: 20+total feet in height. PC’s at base on odd and top on even.
  7. At a waterfall
  8. Across a mountain tarn

Weird! Roll d6

  1. In a storm (total even – electrical, total odd – blizzard)
  2. d4 = (1: Path Found! add one Success to total* , 2: impassable drop/chasm, backtrack required (remove one Success from total*). 3: cliff face as (Where?:6): pine forest and overgrown town)
  3. Runic stone
  4. Rockfall
  5. Rain
  6. Fog (visibility down to Large Burst Template)

Triples

If you throw a triple…

  1. A herd of mountain goats trample you in the storm
  2. The giants are throwing rocks at each other
  3. The dwarves are performing a secret ritual
  4. The bandits set off the rockfall
  5. The ogres are drunk, giving them a -2 penalty to all Skill rolls but also giving them the Harder to Kill and Improved Nerves of Steel Edges
  6. You can hear the howling, but can’t place it, even though it’s nearby. The wolves attack in waves rather than just standing still.

Doubles

If any of the dice come up double…

  1. The game seeks refuge in a cave behind the waterfall
  2. The gargoyles have treasure sunk in the tarn

Max

The party has spotted a clear path to the place they’re trying to get to. Add 2d4 Successes to their total*.

*The particular adventure I have in mind for this involves the party using their Survival skill to identify a feature of the mountains indicating the existence of an abandoned mine. Each ‘Success’ brings them half a day closer to the mine.

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