Best Selling

Monday, August 31, 2020

Using 1e ADnD modules in your own game world...

I did not intentionally start the new campaign of Rom’Myr so as to stuff as many 1e AD&D modules as I have into it, but once I reviewed S4 I wanted to try. The Rom’Myr campaign is a homebrewed Dying Earth setting offering the trappings and tropes of an original Vancian city, and the colorful denizens to be found therein. I started with Jack’s own stories of his fabled dying earth. My cardinal rule of source and inspiration of a genre is to reread the original material. By and large a ttrpg setting is devoid of the magic and juice the original creator transfused into their work. Carcosa would be an exception here, but the author and setting writer are one in the same. An organic kernel of fucked-upness which birthed a nation. So, I was quite convinced when reading S4 it was utterly the most Vancian module Gygax wrote. I needed a sharp range of mountains to hem-in the sword and sandle city of Valla’Tair, the campaigns home starting point. S4 is on my shelf so I was eager to make it “work”. The nuanced harmony with Vance’s stories S4 has made hacking the module a simple process. Many, many things of the original module were left intact.



Remember in high school when the DnD adventure recently purchased was going to be the adventure to be played that weekend? That is how I remember it all. The only elements of a traditional DnD campaign would be using the same character for each adventure, giving the character survived the previous one. Rather unsatisfying considering the true potential of the medium. Hence the idea was born, and gauntlet thrown down. I became determined to weave as many classic DnD adventure modules into the campaign as I could! Not in any slap-on, haphazard methods of old, but only when the module “fit”. I was betting the best use of this material was exactly how the authors said to use it; make it your own! Now this does require re-skinning the mod. Changing names, replacing monsters with your own, tossing out material that doesn’t work for you, this will need to be done to slot correctly into your game. But if you have chosen wisely then the work is brisk and intuitive.

Here are the AD&D modules (among many, many other sources) used so far:

S4 The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth

T1 Village of Hommlet

X2 Castle Amber

C1 The Hidden Shrine of Tomoachan

B3 Palace of the Silver Princess

WG4 The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun

The early DnD modules, or at least the ones I have used, are masterful tools which willingly support whatever the DM is attempting to build with their players. I subscribe to the notion that other people’s ideas are intrinsic to a successful campaign world (also known as a “living world”). These different (they don’t always need to be good, I learn from bad) ideas and adventures help link my best ideas together. There wasn’t any connection by players of the classic modules they are battling through.  This is because the players were pursuing their goals, their advisories, the consequences of their actions. Enough slight-of-hand achieved so Tsojcanth is the Yonni’Hor mountains and the mysteries lying within. Tomoachan is the lower catacombs and sewers hiding the Cult of Sleep. Castle Amber and Hommlet is the home of the eccentric Ansulex family and their strange studies, werewolves in thrall to the Archbishop are stalking rebels and radicals, and the whimsical Palace of the Silver Prince is lost to the macabre house of the vampiric Knight of Gore. I don’t think I would have thought of a martial order of ghouls if it wasn’t for using B3. That dinner party was the shit!

See the source image

I know Gygax and others tied their unique creations, eventually, to an official setting. Just like coming up with unique traps and challenges weekly is hard work, having all the answers to the player’s questions is unrealistic. Having some fleshed-out pantheon provided, or collection of kingdoms presented, saves time creating buildings, towns, and secret labs. There is only so much time in the day. But I’ll say you have to have your own unique campaign world to give a good game a chance. You must have horizons you are passionate to reveal. A DM is on the right track world building when prewritten adventures are easily adapted to situations at hand. One, they are good. They are good spaces to move around in, there are ample examples of what threats can be encountered there, major NPCs to make your own supervillains out of. I’ve hung the best, weirdest stuff I can on these old modules and I’ll tell you, it isn’t nothing they haven’t seen or can’t help make better.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Less games but More thoughts (Champions)

 Summer season 2020 is running like most summers since gaming has returned to my weekly schedule, big gaps between games. I get it, me, and everyone else in the gaming group does what summer begs us to do, get outside with friends and family! Vacations! Fuck yeah! Going on one tomorrow. All three of the games I’m involved with are getting hit with month long gaps. So, I got some time for a blog post before the holiday disconnect and I’m going to drivel on about the Champions United campaign. Eight sessions down and the superhero effort is, is, ummm, fun! I haven’t read comics on a regular basis since ’94. I like The Max and Savage Dragon and Marvel and Batman. Pretty standard fare, nothing exotic. I think it was the regular Magic tournaments held at my college comic shop that stopped me from visiting regularly. But like much of the “modern” genre in ttrpg’s I feel I run a rough game of supers. Specifically handling fantastic powers and fast combat procedurally while keeping the emergent relationships forming fresh and forceful.

 My belief rules are for the players and not the DM collide with Champions combat procedure. Injecting unpredictable and additional action during combat dialog is a refereeing technique I favor. Champions thick combat options are getting deliberated during the game sessions. It is almost unavoidable. The more rules in a game the more players will implement them to control the pace of the game, to exert control over their game world. With a DM which wants to push the action with a chaotic fight scene they will constantly have the PCs throwing roadblocks in the form of rules or debating a rule to try and wrest that control back. I want to dialogue and describe some actions the villainous villain is taking and we got to then start counting inches.

It’s a good game. Champions United is running with only two PCs and we have already survived (in style) with an initial PC backing out after three sessions, but the story unfolding is sticky with plot hooks, cool NPCs. The Capitol City Universe of 2020 has interesting things going on all at the hands of interesting heroes. First person, in character interaction is going really well to. Kind of essential in a supers game.

We play bi-weekly and only have a two-hour session. The reason why I get anxious about running an efficient combat encounter with Champions. I want a superhero game session to have investigation, interrogation, and an important combat. Not in any particular order, but as an outline to keep the action moving forward. If these three types of encounters are present the session will have an exciting pace and the settings surprising. The only conclusion so far I have drawn is Champions requires everyone at the table to resolve actions with the simplest application of the rules. Which means instinctively knowing when to follow strict procedure and when to disregard possible “code” exceptions buried in the rules. But this only works with a level of trust the players have to give the DM which I rarely see. How deep do you go with combat modifiers to find out if you need a roll less than 8, 11, 15 to hit? Could players be on board with reducing the amount of combat modifiers they can apply at any one time? Is it more important I have the PC roll the dice to hit fast and only use a big-picture conception of modifiers (I’m thinking like when you have a scale of 1 to 5 and you quickly reduce modifiers to an “appropriate” number). The only other way I can see combat avoiding lengthy rules discussion is everyone is responsible for knowing how their powers work in most situations. Velocity, Move Through damage, how to knock a person prone, these all need to be rote by the player using these abilities. Not so much that everybody is getting every rule right all the time, but everyone is comfortable with the logic of the game mechanics and can quickly decide how the 11 or less to hit should be adjusted.

I’m satisfied I can run Champions. I haven’t found any other supers game which solve these particular challenges in any noticeable way. 11 or less to hit on 3d6 with modifiers is a pretty simple method of adjudication. Contested attribute rolls where highest BOD count wins is fucking simple to. It must just be the eye-glazing effect of all the other considerations you can make which trip up players. At some point isn’t too many combat options unhelpful?

I’m not down on Champions, I’m trying to give an honest appraisal. For players to design their original superhero, for all these different designs being able to work with each other coherently Champions is really, really good. I think I could come to appreciate the DC Heroes resolution and effects charts and live with their character creation process. But I can get a Champions game going and not a DC Heroes game.

Yeah, this is the dynamic I’m working against. There has to be rules for all the powers and their effects. The more rules you have you end up slowing down game pace. Where is the sweet spot? As I search this out through continued play my final conclusion, for now, is to keep flapping my villain’s gums and have them performing extraordinary fucked-up shit. It is one of the ways I have found works to engage the PCs with the characters and not the character sheet.

Here is the list of systems researched and played with. Marvel FASERIP, DC Heroes/Blood of Heroes, Supergame, Icons, Mutant and Masterminds, Villains and Vigilantes, Cowls and Crusaders?, the Hero Instant. They are all different systems so it is a chore to get a comprehensive look on how one game may be an improvement over the other. My yardstick for improvement is a reduction in times I have to turn to the rule book during play. And I haven’t found any of these other games do this. I’ll keep playing Champions because like DnD, if I want to play a game of supers I can play with a system I want and have an empty table or use Champions and have a black and blue campaign world with real, original characters.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Rick Stumpf and Swampfox1776 should be unwelcome in gaming circles

I understand and appreciate the turn of phrase “assume good faith, until proven otherwise”, but using a flying confederate flag as your avatar (its animated!) allows me to dispense with the effort and move on to the matter which must be dealt with. The matter of driving out and burying those who believe such racist signaling is permissible in society. Not to be debated with or educated or have a reasonable discussion with. Just marginalized and refuted passage on public forums dedicated to (well, anything else) the civil act of playing games.

I look forward to the day when such abhorrent displays of unethical attitudes held will be as embarrassing in civilized society as walking around and showing off your favorite child pornography.

The moderator has decided my position is in the wrong, so one can only assume Rick Stumpf (the moderator) holds the same ideology and hopelessly biased perspective. Perhaps he is one of those who sees good people on both sides?

Here is the recent exchange with this darkness.

 




 

I suggest this group on mewe be made to go bury their heads in the next “lowest rung” of society somewhere else. Forced to go find a place to set up shop on the melting iceberg which is racism. If Rick Stumpf is going to be permissive of this inappropriate, provocative and violent signaling he shouldn’t be welcomed in the greater gaming community. My guess he is not.

Anything in the greater game community.

So marginalizing this group and signaling to others it is not a good gaming group to support is a legitimate and lawful action to take against this kind of stuff. Pointing out the bald inappropriateness of this behavior and making them unwelcome in larger gaming circles makes for fewer racists in the world, eventually.

Not to spend too much time on this point before I make my plea, I did not go looking for this. I didn’t wake up this morning and decide I’m going to search the gaming forums to perform and get pats on the ass for stating the obvious. This is more of a toxic waste dump I have to pass on my way to school every day. I’m going to do something about it. I’m feeling it as a “local” problem, not something abstract and remote. Matter of fact, don’t comment on this post if you support my position, instead please inform the micro forum of gamers there promoting, and permissive of open displays of racism in a game forum that they need to take confederate symbols down and if not, good-faith efforts will try and get their ass booted. That is my plea. I can only tell Mewe and other gamers on the site this is not cool once. Mewe gets a 100 then you are going to get some action. I could be wrong, but that is all I know to do, ethically. Public shame racism trying to hide out in the open.

I did get a private chat request from Rick and in short, he told me I better watch it. There were two salient points he put forth as legitimate reasons for me to “watch it”. OF the first it is he is of mixed race? Not sure what to make of that. I guess I know more personal details about this person than I care to now? Second, his father flies the confederate flag. Really. That’s the whole of the argument for tolerating open displays of racism in a public game forum? It is a lovely display of how racism is taught generation to generation, the passing of the torch, so to say.

This isn’t the first time I have brought this up at Tabletop Roleplaying group. I noticed it the first time I checked it out. Yes, I play games and I check out gaming groups on the internet. And I got plain with the guy flying the flag avatar and got the same garbage back you see here. But I had left this sewer after saying my peace and heard encouraging words from other users, other members of this particular game group. I must have totally misunderstood at the time, but I thought I was told Rick had asked SwampFox1776 to take down the image. Because I was wrong about that.

So I said it again, as you can see.

Take the time if you can and report this crap. It’s a good time to push back on permissive happenings of overt racism. The majority of the world rightly assumes owning people as property, slavery, is wrong. You won’t end up having to face public displays alone. You will get support. Flying the confederate flag means you are okay with that. Complain to moderators who are exposed to public pressure and get that shit off the gaming walls and halls.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

How I Run A Game (and other things I never tell my players)

Ha hah... 

No, I'm thinking on this topic right now. Look to put these thoughts into this blog post. Stay tuned... 

See the source image

The first thing about running a game is I must love it. I need to love the genre the game is to be played in. I believe the first session the DM needs their enthusiasm for the setting to be palpable and relatable to the group of new adventurers. Maybe I need to rename this post, How I Start a Game? Point being players are going to start whacking at the game world to get orientated. The best tool for this is the same tool as the pulp writers of the 20’s used in their stories, media res. In action. Players like to ask a lot of questions during the first session which tread towards the mundane. “Do I have enough of and the right gear, can I hang around the tavern and collect rumors, who’s running things in town? This kind activity. They are using mundane actions and routines to safely pull initial facts out of the DM’s world. Armed with facts the PCs feel they can now exert control over the game environment and ready to jump at the first thing of interest that pops up

I try and drop all that shit. A problem up front takes attention away from equipment lists and on adventure occurring now, in the moment. Granted, the PCs will go right to the character sheet when play first begins and they are facing conflict hot and frothing. This is all for the good. Players should be using their valuable time to infest their imaginary friend with genre-appropriate goals and ambitions. My prep before the first session is voluminous, and then gets whittled down to an opening scene I think is cool. If I have certain events or encounters which will happen, I put those in a simple list I can refer to so as not to forget dropping cool stuff down on the scene. The voluminous nature of the prep comes from my inherent enthusiasm for the genre to be played. It is also a good method to get any predictable, not cool, people and places axed out of the scene immediately. On prep, you can always do more. I do not think lots of prep is an indication of anything but enthusiasm for the game. Just make sure you come back to the central conceit; the action is where the PCs are and what does this action all needs to facilitate interesting roleplaying? I’m not trying to remember all this world data, I’m trying to get comfortable moving around in it and I know what the interesting NPCs are up to.

Getting into the action right away cuts off wasted time dithering about looking for an exit into fun world. It offers plots afoot which must at least be recognized. The PCs need to have an investment in this initial encounter too, if you want them to develop their own relationship and reaction to the opening scene. It can be as simple as “Here is what you are doing, and this is happening.” Or more involved. That does not hurt one way or another either. Enthusiasm for the genre by everyone at the table self-directs the PCs into daring feats of heroism without the need for extensive backstory. Giving the PCs a job to do at the start at least gives them something to walk away from and say “No way!”

Okay, first session is done and the PCs have some trouble they either want to run towards or run from. Now I am thinking pacing. What is the flow of events, outside of the player’s actions, which will impact what they are doing now? Is something a straight up confrontation and resolution? Then the pace is straight up confrontation right now. Is the encounter dropping a bit of information on their current ambitions? The importance they assign the information will inform pace. Just to back track a sec, what is the pace of the opening session, or what do I do? Pretty hot. And this is created by having NPCs worth interacting with. And you can’t have NPCs worth interacting with unless you know what they want, what motivates the NPC. My important NPCs get a lot of thought. I want to confound expectations while still securely moored in the tropes of the genre. Keep the best stuff in and throw out everything that gave you an eye roll during your genre-relevant reading. Confounded expectations are created by having characters which interest them, or are needed, and find the one or more things the PCs and the NPCs won’t see eye to eye on. Make sure it comes up. 

In between sessions I’m writing a lot, and much of it goes straight into the waste basket. I imagine screen writing for a television show is very similar. The best version of the playable information is in the last revision of the session’s material right before you go on air. Rewriting the connections and possibilities of NPC reactions is standard with the way I run a game.

I probe players with advanced knowledge or refined tastes on certain topics hoping to polarize some of their character’s views early on. What is their importance in relation to the topic/guild/practice? Why does a god care about them, and what are you supposed to do to honor these gods?

Retaliation. Retaliation by those the PCs have come across. I never give up an opportunity on forgotten hounds of hell to catch back up. This makes the world more personal to everyone, I think.

And that is basically what I do to run a game. Think about it constantly so when game time comes around, I have a better chance of interesting things to say and maybe, just maybe, I’ll be able to keep my nose out of the rule book.