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Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Slaughter a Sacred Cow for Santa

 On this Thanksgiving eve I feel a bit reflective, philosophical and wish to hold court and slaughter some sacred cows for the fires of Tar-Aweil.

Classic Traveller’s adventure modules. I will spill this beast’s blood first. They are uninspired piles of  space dung. It is said H Beam Piper’s stories were a touchstone of inspiration for the original Traveller game and it is apparent in the official adventures. I have read H Beam Piper. It is awful. Not only do the Classic Traveller

adventures present as limp lines of text it ushered in the “official” Traveller Universe, the Third Imperium. Official settings appear to be inevitable with any successful roleplaying game and I have no interest in moaning the soul-killing beast official settings can be for cool games. Not now. I will probably get up into that though at some point before the holidays are over.

But for Traveller it was tepid adventures laid into a tepid game universe. The Pirates of Drinax have been hired by the King to…. Aaagh! Snoozefest. Science Fiction is wild. It is really fucked up shit smashing through the technical power of humanity as it marches through the stars, it is the unrelenting incomprehensibility of the cosmos which make a science fiction adventure good. The first few published adventures for the game quickly buried the genius of the tight game kit for referees and players for years to come. Just for the record, I love Classic Traveller rules. I dream of building and running a Dune-like campaign universe to sketch my roleplaying ambitions on and I would do it with Classic Traveller.

I know this probably comes across like I’m picking on the slow kid in school but let us now turn to the Palladium Setting books. System dreadful and convoluted but great setting books. Yin-Sloth, Western Empire, Timiro. A paragraph here and there around a made-up name a great setting book this does not make. The maps in these books shows what the creator thinks of fans and players, not much. Your campaign notebook has better maps then Palladium setting books.

The one for the north has this bad ass illo on the cover. Coyle witch doctor and undead crawling out of a frozen forest pond. Metal as shit. Take my word for. Just tear off the cover and throw the rest away. So the total amount of ink I find reviewing the Palladium canon is depressing in its sucky-ness.

Gurps source books are great! No they are not. They are a dagger into the heart of good fun and inspired adventure in many a naïve new roleplaying heart. Did you want to play a game in the Rome Imperium because you wanted to know the names of how they measured wheat. Or what they called their houses. No, you want to stick a short sword in a barbarian’s neck, race chariots recklessly and burn down cities! Many, many ttrpg setting books have sickened a dreamy mind dry. Inspiration, not accuracy is what players and referees need. Take for example B4 The Lost City by Tom Moldvy. There is a pretty complete adventure and sketched out city for a setting. Not much. All in thirty-two pages? Since I’ve played that module in high school I didn’t see a full-on setting book worth a shit until Yoon-Suin! You see, the value of a setting book is guiding one into genre-fidelity when spit-balling the moon, not in “accuracy”. 

My advice is steer clear of Gurps and Palladium setting books. Take what fires you up about an adventure setting. It is not in the setting details. There must be a sophisticated layering of useful bits which end up imparting flavor. Not facts. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Got Dune?

How would you do Dune?  

This is a regular on game boards. What game system would you use, what type of adventures would you run, where do the characters fit into the universe and their relative importance. Sometimes the talk turns to specifics, all system orientated, what would depict the psionic powers best, Sardukar, Fremen, Sandworms and spaceships. There are paragraphs written on how intrigue and interstellar politics are best adjudicated, what system will help you get it right. I fuss and fret over these things to when my mind drifts to Dune, the Moby Dick, of my gaming ambitions. When I see the same question (which interests me) being trucked out again and again, and the answers are all predictable I tell myself I and everyone else is looking at this ambitious goal, to game a Dune-inspired game worthy of the name fucking wrong! Okay, I will only include myself in this category. I am not here to bruise feelings. Unless you are a player in my game…

I start building a campaign world generally from this bas-ackward approach. Okay I want to do “this” and I should use “this” to pull it off. My latest approach to campaign and world building goes something like this, “What do you have that makes doing this worth it? How are you going to nail ‘It’?” When I consciously make these pivots, I have yielded impressive fruit. It more or less gets me to read the source material and reengage the artistic talent of the prose which first electrified me when I was a wee one reading comic books and Lovecraft and Howard and Moorcock. I started a Sword & Sorcery campaign years ago built on just reading the Conan novels and a generic minimalist system. I just kept breathing in that black lotus until my soul was dark and pitiless. Really, it is just paying attention to what and why a certain adventure was just awesome. You learn the pace of the campaign world from the source material, not the game mechanics. The language to, basic stuff. I’ve repeated this approach with the three other campaigns which have gotten significant milage here online since 2012 and it has always been successful. Like a sci-fi campaign. I always wanted to run one, but I haven’t done so because I don’t have a good, a great idea. I can’t answer that question in the affirmative, “What do you have that makes doing this worth it?” so I don’t move forward. Then one day I read an adventure module (doesn’t matter what genre, this occasion it was a fantasy adventure) and shouted eureka! I had a reason. I had a great opening adventure and it made all my spacey opera horror sci-fi dreams fall into place like instantly.

So the Dune situation is how do you duplicate the awesome presence the planet has in everything. For a Dune-esque game you need to create a massiveness, a galactic presence which must eclipse the entirety of cosmic civilization. In the source material the planet is irrefutable and overpowering. Its importance has hardened the universe into the few space-faring civilizations which can cope with this and exist. 

However one approaches creation of the campaign world reflection on how the one important planet turns the entire cosmos into fits has to be nailed down. Characters are always reflected in their relationship to the dominating planet in a Dune campaign. The effects, the literary devices used by the source material are well known and discussed ably all over the internet. The roleplayer’s task when they pick up the Dune Gauntlet is how to impart that massiveness into a gameable expression. And that is why I would use Classic Traveller cause I find a campaign of this "flavor" would take much thought to come up with something worth playing. A simple system for sci-adventure will be my enabler more than a detailed system, even one designed to be Dune! I don’t trust any commercial game designers to take this shit serious enough to get it right. I have made, and this is probably unnecessary and
misguided, a Dune-inspired campaign the elusive unicorn of my gaming ambitions. I wait for the day when the idea gels and I scream "I got it!" and start scribbling some notes. I mean, you gotta come up with something cooler than psychotic-narcotic spice which allows you to fold space and well, you get the picture. Tall order. Another place where I don't think a system is going to save you. It is going to take a lot of passion and vision from everyone at the table to not be lame. I’ll tell you when I figure it out.


Tuesday, November 10, 2020

What are the Slaves Doing? Roll 1d8

1. Three Slaves and a Prostitute are beating a merchant behind a wagon.

2. Six Slaves are carrying the funeral litter of their former master. They have actually replace the corpse with valuable silver from the late master’s house. They plan on digging it up later.

3. Twelve Slaves are digging a hole. They know not what their master expected to find, but if the city guard sees what they are doing...

4. Four slaves are enjoying Yellow Lotus. Never trying it before their zonkers and have hardly touched the bag.

5. Two Slaves are beseeching a Priest of Toil to take them in and free their tormented souls. Zoari may find them useful…

6. A slave is afraid to deliver the “package” his master ordered him to do. He asks the PCs to do it for him. The contact is supposed to hand over a bag of gold in exchange, but the slave fears the rogues will slay him out of hand. But adventures as hard as you surely could walk out with the gold. The package is a mummified heart. Have fun with that!

7. Slaves of a Temple Priest are spying, looking to ferret out rival operatives and informing their masters! Karathsepo, the Lady of Torment, the Desirous Succubus has one of her slaves contact the PCs. She is looking for an opportunity to poison Silla Korafasa yet keep the Church’s hands clean. Could the PCs be of service to the Church of Toil?

8. Playing dice to pass the time while chained up here in the alley. They invite the PCs to have a few throws. If any of the players jumps into the game, one of the slaves will whisper that their master is away and if they free them, he will show the PCs where the valuable silver is in the house.

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Can there be too many charts? No!

 My latest call-in on the Vanishing Tower Podcast posed two questions. For those specific questions you can hear them at the front of the blog recording. Here are my answers, which I putting up.

The description of the game session watched was a less than optimal use of tables in a Dungeons & Dragons Game. The reasons why it is a poor use of a table are apparent, numerous and generally understood. So, I won’t dwell on that here. I have used a campsite set of charts in the OSR game I run. It was stuff from Wormskin zine. The PCs were deciding whether to travel in the wrong direction and take refuge at a village for the night or continue and hope for a suitable camp site in rough, rainy terrain. All for 50 men. They chose to move on and look for a suitable campsite. I rolled on a chart for this from the zine and told them what they found for use later. 

Notice I am not rolling to determine whether they have found a spot to camp. I’m rolling for what kind of campsite did they find. Finding the camp site and firewood is a forgone conclusion. I have decent charts which provide something I can use for descriptions and random encounters. If it does not, I shouldn’t be using it. And the roll, most importantly, will inform me if an interesting encounter happens in the night or is it dawn and time to get moving. I hope the tactile details I provided were enjoyable enough they pin the location for later use, but that is just icing on the cake if it occurs. We all did just add something to the campaign world, a camp site, all because the players made a choice and acted on the choice and details of possible results has been anticipated by the DM. So, whether on a table or from a block of text the information I'm throwing out there is in concourse with the game. It has a reason for being and is not wasting the player’s time.

As For the follow up question, no, there cannot be too many charts. Here is my thinking on this, the game designer included the tables and charts they believe should be used with the game. If I’m having trouble and frustrations with the amount of charts I need to reference, and I’ve given a good faith try in learning/running the system, then it isn’t a good fit for me as a DM. There is nothing inherently wrong with the game, I tried RoleMaster back in the day, but it was a backward fit for what I do at the table. But there were many other players who used it and enjoyed the game. They were able to use the tables in a learned way to make their play create what they were after.

Charts and tables, just like the rules, should fade in the background as everyone roleplays. As a DM I would rather be fluid and concise in the moment and not have to look back at anything. Charts, rules, previous history. This is a broad generalization of my goals at the table. But those three functions I have just mentioned are guiding principles, the charts are easy and fun to use, I rarely need to refer to the rulebook because use has got me using the game mechanics well, and previous history does not need to be looked up because everything has been so exciting everyone knows what important “stuff” to do right now!