Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Tip of the Hat to Bioware

It's rare to see so clear an example of "not getting it" in the wild as this complaint by a straight male gamer about Dragon Age 2. It seems to boil down to "a male character flirted with me and it made me feel icky."

Bioware, however, gets it, which is why the link. They're now a company that says, flat-out:
"The romances in the game are not for 'the straight male gamer.' They’re for everyone. We have a lot of fans, many of whom are neither straight nor male, and they deserve no less attention."
That's pretty okay by me, and I hope they do well because of it.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Current RPG Projects

Go-Anywhere, Play-Anywhen Megadungeon Binder. I had one of these but I've misplaced it and I've got a better idea of how to put the notes together for it now anyway. I want to be able to run one-shots for random people as needed, and I'd love to be able to run a semi-regular large player group game, and this would fit both purposes. (Simultaneously, even.) Still trying to decide whether to go with the underworld theme or the infinite library theme.

The Moleskine Notebook Game. I've owed Trollsmyth a solo game for a while now, and I've sort of slowly been scribbling notes into the notebook in question for it. The big thing that needs to happen is I need to sit down and really figure out what I'm doing with the magic system, and then the rest of it should come together. Unfortunately this one is still probably going to have to sit on the back-burner for a while.

Pathfinder. I've been really impressed by the Pathfinder Gamemastery Guide and I want to give this version of my erstwhile system a shot. Bunch of ideas floating around here, basically around four themes. (1) There are a bunch of crazy subsystems and supplements I never got to use in my first 3.5e go-round. Psionics, The Book of Nine Swords, some of the bloodline stuff from Unearthed Arcana, and a few others. (2) I've got a couple of setting ideas that would fit really well with some 3.5e/Pathfinder specific stuff -- sorcerer bloodlines in particular. (3) It might be nice to make a fairly "normal" D&D-type fantasy setting for once. (4) Dang, if sword & sworcery isn't rad. Not sure yet exactly what combination of all that I'm going to end up with.

This is, of course, not including the game I'm currently running or the several games I'm playing with Trollsmyth.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Why are you idiots in the underworld?

For the underworld megadungeon, in case one of the players makes the mistake of asking, "So, why am I here again?"

1 Grandmother is angry at you again. Your mother/spouse/roommates are fed up with all the howling and banging so you have to go figure out what you did this time and fix it.
2 Little brother's cat died. You've decided to find and trap its wandering, tortured spirit for him so he can "learn about life."
3 Accidentally killed your girl(and/or)boyfriend. You feel kind of bad about that. Go find him/her so you can properly lay them to rest, or at least say "sorry."
4 You've grown up all your life with stories about some treasure hidden by one of your ancestors. After a couple years (days) of searching, you've given up finding it on your own, and are determined to find the old coot so he can give you a map.
5 Last week your cousin showed up with some really great pearls that s/he said were from the underworld. Convinced that girl/guy you've been kind of sweet on to go with them to Moon Dance. You're going to go down there and find something better, damn it.
6 You're bored, and otherwise sort of useless.
7 You're pretty distractable, and some joker told you there were shiny things down there.
8 Your older brother stole one of your favorite possessions and says he hid it in one of the odd passageways. You're not sure you believe him.
9 One of your friends died in a freak carp accident and you're actually kind of sad about it. Go find him so you can say goodbye.
10 The cats have been acting really strange lately. Your great-aunt says that means a malevolent spirit of some kind has been bothering the halls of the family dead. You're either the oldest sibling or the stupidest, so it falls on you to go clear it out.
11 You owe money to the mob. This is the fastest way to get it without doing any real work, and even if you don't get it, maybe going down there will convince them that you're too scary to mess with anyway.
12 You want to be a mighty hero, and you're looking for ancient warriors to learn from. It hasn't occurred to you yet that it might be better to look for warriors who haven't gotten themselves killed yet.
13 The local temple needs the poison of a ancestor-touched spiny toad to complete the initiations of their latest batch of acolytes. Somehow you've been drafted into catching a few for them.
14 You want to catch a spirit for a familiar. If you're not a magic-user, you'll just catch a rat or something and call it your familiar.
15 Spirit blossom grows down there. You want some.
16 Someone owes you money and the bastard ran down into the underworld to hide from you. You're tempted to just let him get eaten by spirits, but he's owed you that money for a long time, dang it.
17 You have a question that you desperately want answered, and you haven't been able to find a solution anywhere in the surface world. The last person you talked to said a particular ancestor or spirit might have the answer.
18 Zombie outbreak got the dead all riled up. Take some rice, holy water, and the severed head of the sorcerer responsible down there and calm the lot of them down.
19 You found a skull and you don't know whose it is. Now you need to go find its owner so you can make sure it's not a restless murder victim or something.
20 You're dead, Jim. 50% chance you've noticed.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

How did it get into the library?

1 Deliberately entered via a spell, such as summon library. If the creature is not of the appropriate type/level to cast the spell on its own, someone cast it for them. 25% chance in this case that the passageway is still accessible somewhere on the level.
2 Born here
3-6 Made here (1-2 recently 3-6 in ages long past, now best forgotten)
7-8 Wandered in accidentally through a spontaneous entrance from one of the usual places. (1-3 old section of a mundane library where no one's been recently 4 wizard graveyard 5 magic forest 6 anywhere constructed with or with furniture made of wood pilfered from a magic forest (or stone pilfered from a wizard graveyard)*) 10% chance the passageway is still accessible somewhere on this level.
9 It's always been here
10 The PCs are somehow responsible

*not a recommended building material

Monday, March 21, 2011

Two Offbeat Places to Die Horrible Lightless Deaths

The Underworld. Not the "mythic underworld," but the literal, place-where-dead-folks-go underworld. You might head down there to get information lost to all but the dead, make sure an ancestor's spirit has been properly appeased, or even retrieve someone who ended up there accidentally. (If the lord of the underworld is, like Pluto, also a god of wealth, you might have more traditional reasons as well.) Alternatively, character death might be the beginning of the campaign. You're trying to explore the place's geography and social structure, find old friends, relatives, and ancestors, and figure out where your place in it all is.

The Infinite Library. Mortals can't come up with spells on their own. All the spells that ever have been and ever will be known are buried somewhere in a dark catacomb that follows only the twisted logic of magic. "Researching a new spell" is a matter of piecing together from surface world research what you can of the laws of the place to make your best guess of where the effect you want might be found, and then diving into that deadly maze to retrieve it. (This is, I should note, more a twist on noisms Planescape Borges thought, brought on by Jeff's latest spellbook musings, than a truly new idea. Less scholarly arguments, more deadly monsters and traps guarding the occasional cache of scrolls, but still.)

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Angriest Little Ornithopter

On Thursday night I played Magic: the Gathering. Learned a couple of things.
  • If one guy starts calling them "articrafts," pretty soon everyone will be.
  • If you have nine lands and Untamed Might in your hand, then clearly your only choice is to play it on your partner's Ornithopter. Hereby dubbed "The Angriest Little Ornithopter."
  • Three teams of two players is a ridiculous format. The game was like two hours long, and at the end we got to that stupid point where everyone has like eight lands and two cards in their hands.
  • My deck is way too defensive. Was running green/blue with big critters, mana accelerators and a lot of control to clear the way for those critters. I liked the idea and have even gotten it to work a couple of times, but in bringing the deck down from the 60 card limit I'd built it with and the 40 card limit I'd just found out I'd played it with, I took out too many of the high-cost cards and ended up with a deck that frustrated people until the endgame and then couldn't do much itself. No good.
  • Deck building is hard. Absolutely the most interesting part of the game, but I'm still getting the hang of defensive/offensive balance, combos, and how to find the right mana curve for a given deck. Nevermind that I haven't yet actually played all that much Magic, so I'm really still getting a handle on how to judge the relative values of the cards themselves.
  • For instance, I hadn't realized until tonight how useful Glint Hawks can be. I hadn't fully made the distinction between "discard" and "return to your hand" for some stupid reason, until one of the other teams used it to play Contagion Engine twice.
  • I'm pretty sure infect isn't quite as good as this group thinks it is. It is good, but more importantly, it's a fairly straightforward strategy to assemble. It takes a little more thought to put together a non-infect deck that's equivalent to it. That might still be a big enough advantage to let it dominate casual play, but as far as I can tell the main use infect sees in tournament constructed is for creature removal, not as a serious attack on the player.
  • Why the heck wasn't the rule "15 poison counters to win" in two-headed giant before Friday?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Hot Shirtless Men in Cages Welcome You to the OSR

Forget hot elf chicks. I tend to agree with Zak that we already have enough (straight) guys in the OSR as it is. Besides, everyone knows that when it comes to sex, nothing says "old school" like bondage. And nothing says "bondage" like classic Trek!

More pics of Shatner (sadly, not always shirtless and/or in handcuffs) can be found at the ever-excellent Jeff's Gameblog. Be sure to stay for the random tables, including the Triple Secret Random Dungeon Fate Chart of Very Probable Doom and the classic Carousing Mishaps table.

No cages this time, but there is a giant snake! The two best things about old school D&D, both in one picture. If you want more of this kind of classic, pulp and Frank Frazetta-inspired goodness in your gaming, you can't go wrong with old school.

For more information about the pulp fantasy roots of D&D, including the parts of the genre it emulates besides giant snakes and slavepits, be sure to check out Grognardia. Though, frankly, if you've got giant snakes and slave pits, what more could you ask for?

Classic old school Erol Otus bondage! Foul enchantresses! Fates worse than death!

Of course, these days the best work being done along these lines can be found in the fine publications of Lamentations of the Flame Princess. Make sure to check out Weird Fantasy Roleplaying, LotFP's house system, if you're looking for a new spin on the old rules. For those of you who are more about painful and gruesome than cages, per se, LotFP also publishes a really excellent collection of nasty adventures compatible with Swords & Wizardry, Labyrinth Lord, and pretty much anything else D&D-derived.

Finally! I promised you cages, so here you are with cages. Containing none other than Graz'zt, the demon prince of sex. Wait, no. That's not right. There's no sex in D&D. Nope. (A 3.x-era Anne Stokes piece, but really, how much more old school can you get that Graz'zt? Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth, people.)

Unless you're Playing D&D with Pornstars, (NSFW) like Zak Sabbath, who here in the OSR basically is the demon prince of sex, as well as the demon prince of art, cool hair, and sweet city maps.

Last but not least, some slavegirls in chains for those of you who'd rather see hot chicks in cages than hot shirtless guys.

For more information about using slavegirls (and guys) in your games, your best bet is probably Trollsmyth. It's also the best place for horrifying giant spiders, so if he tries to recruit you for his online Labyrinth Lord game, don't believe a word he says otherwise.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The New Game

Right. So. It's Ye Olde 3.5 Edition D&D. Eberron. The players are Snakeheart, who was in the Traveller game and the LotFP game as well as a few other random things I've run over the past couple of years, Munchkin, for whom the LotFP game was her first introduction to D&D, and Dangerfox, who'd played a session of Vampire: the Masquerade before this but is otherwise new to RPGs. (The names are not internet handles or blog names. This is honestly what I call these people. Their real names are boring, so I improved them.)

Munchkin is running Mirithia, a halfling druid ("You insulted my dinosaur!"), Snakeheart is running Waywocket, a gnome bard ("Break his legs!") and Dangerfox is running a warforged fighter whom the other two currently refer to as "Mr. Huggable," although they've gone through a handful of other options already and are pretty sure that won't be the one they settle on ("I'm going to start developing a personality now.").

We've had two sessions and they've both gone pretty well. I'm not sure yet whether I'm going to achieve my aims in this exercise. I'm not, honestly, even sure there's going to be another session. We've missed the last couple of weekends due to spring break and musicals and just life in general, but we're at a good place to pick it up next weekend and I'm hoping we'll get at least a few more sessions in before the end of the semester.

My reasons for deciding to go back and run this system that I've sworn off for so long -- I've threatened to sell my books on more than one occasion, as I possess a number entirely unreasonable -- are fairly simple. For whatever reason, the games I've been trying to run over the past few years haven't worked. They have been, in places, fun, but they've too often been too intensely frustrating for me to justify my continued participation in the activity. I didn't want to just quit, so I thought -- I'll go back and run the game the way I remember doing when it was fun. The old school method, if you will.

Frustration with roleplaying is, incidentally, a big part of why this blog's been unusually quiet lately. There have been a couple of times in the past six months or so when I have very nearly sworn off the hobby entirely. I haven't been having fun with running games, and I've been getting involved with other activities -- board games, anime, actually being a player for once, and just lately even a bit of Magic: The Gathering. Add in that I've finally discovered how to have a social life that doesn't entirely revolve around D&D, the job finding and school finishing business of senior year, and a few life-related odds and ends, and yeah, quiet.

Still. At one point I really enjoyed running games, and if at all possible I'd like to enjoy it again. And if I am going to end up quitting, I'd like to be dang sure that the whole thing really doesn't work for me any more, and not just that what I've been doing lately hasn't been quite right.

I have a few hypotheses for why the old ways worked for me and the new ones (which are in fact the old ones) haven't, some relevant to this game, some not. I'm pretty sure that part of it was simply that 3.5e, in high school, was the game that everyone knew, intimately, past the point of needing translation. That's obviously not the case now, with a batch full of new players, but this campaign is beginning to bear out the usefulness of other, more translatable points of style. Among other things, I like having a handful of race class combos to hang characters on, it's handy every so often to be able to drop a combat encounter on the gang to give me some time to think, and the skill system is a decent safety net when I'm not quite sure how to respond to what the players want to try.

A lot of it, though, is simply the nostalgia of the thing. I miss these books. The 3.5e tomes, the silly looking, wannabe-spell books whose covers clearly aren't nearly as cool as something with actual art on them, are D&D to me. I'd missed that, and while it's not the same as it was, I'm glad to have something like it back for a bit.