Thursday, April 30, 2009

How I Prep For Traveller

Most of the notes for the planets in my Traveller sub-sector look something like this:

Dori Danu 0408 B78A456-11 ST NI Wa

Very little physical violence, so conflict takes the form of espionage and elaborate power plays between the ruling families who control the world's aerodomes and algae farms.

A little smaller than earth
Dense atmosphere
Almost entirely water
41,142 citizens
Feudal technocracy
Banned: all firearms except shotguns and stunners; carrying weapons discouraged, TL 11 items, computers
Early stellar -- first true AI
500 Cr. Berthing costs

Peaceful -- physical conflict is almost unheard-of. The culture produces few soldiers and diplomacy reigns supreme. Forceful characters will be ostracized.

Famous for Danuvian rubies, which are so rare that exporting them is illegal.

Minor captive government -- The Shimmering Sky is an odd, drug based cult with mysterious initiation rituals, but it doesn't seem to be a source of trouble.
Minor company/organization -- ShinyHappy Algae, the major (but not the only) algae processing interest on the planet. It's run by its founder, Nila "Happy" Emmerson (no one knows what happened to her partner, Nick "Shiny" Frost).

First, I generate the UWP, and since I'm using Mongoose Traveller, number, strength, and type of factions, and then a cultural quirk. I write out what each entry in the UWP means below, since I haven't memorized all those charts yet and it helps when I'm describing the world to the players.

Then, I look at that and the quirk, and try to come up with a theme for the world, and a one or two sentence description based on that. Dori Danu's theme would be something like "decadent water world where conflict is social;" other themes in the subsector include "religion based on Marvel comics," "ancient Egyptian-style ruins," "Dune rip-off," "robot farmers," "plutonium-peddling Cthulu worshippers," "pretty much like Tortuga" and "everyone worships whales."

A lot of the time, that's really all I'll need to run a decent game, particularly now that the characters have their own goals going on. A lot of times what they'll do is ask me for a list of the passengers on their ship and what they're up to, or go to a bar to pick up rumors, either just in a general way or about specific people. The theme gives me enough to go on to generate that kind of thing.

For a while I was also generating a list of missions/rumors, but that was really too much of a crap-shoot to be helpful. It ended up giving me a bunch of random little things to manage, rather than making the sessions more interesting. Now that I have a better handle on the rhythm of the game, I'm probably going to start generating one or two "NPCs of interest," people who can provide some service to the PCs or have some interesting issue attached to them. That way, there's something obvious and interesting to return to, and possibly get integrated into the ongoing saga of the campaign, without giving me a bunch of pointless little details to manage.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Thoughts on Campaign Complexity

I tend to have a hard time describing my campaigns to non-participants. You'll note, for instance, that my "recaps" here tend to focus on a few key issues, often mostly out-of-game or otherwise technical in nature, with very little discussion of any events outside of the specific problem I'm having. If I did more than that, it would quickly turn into pages of material.

The Traveller game has already gotten to the point where it would take several paragraphs just to fully discuss their current mission, and explain why everyone's going along with it, how they got it in the first place, and where they're going from there. A complete explanation of all the different goals they have bubbling on various burners would take weeks.

It's ridiculous. But it's not unusual, for one of my campaigns or for roleplaying campaigns generally. This one doesn't even involve all that much history; it wasn't unusual in Is This Fair for a complete update of the campaigns current status to require repeated references to events that happened in two distinct time periods, one thousands of years prior to the start of the campaign, and the other around four hundred years previous.

I'm sure that there are some campaigns which don't develop such labyrinthine complexity, but it strikes me as a general tendency of such things, if only because there's half a dozen people all contributing their input to the thing that will someday resemble a plot. The basic challenge of integrating four or five separate backstories and character motivations into a coherent whole, which a campaign does by default (though a good referee will guide it towards a stable state that doesn't shortchange any one character or group of characters in favor of another) accounts for a great deal of complexity all on its own.

But a lot of it comes directly from the game master's side of the screen. This has been particularly true in my current campaign, but it's true in a general way of most roleplaying campaigns: I generate a lot more material than I will ever reasonably use, most of it in the form of offhand references, minor NPCs, and hooks the players don't bite. This is just a normal part of negotiating the divide between player and game master; I don't know exactly what they'll be interested in, so I make more than I need, and they'll be more interested in some things than others, so they'll notice less than I make.

Sooner or later, though, some of that material that doesn't immediately get used will come up again. Either the players will remember what I'd intended as a one-off incident and attach some significance to it, or I'll reason that something that happened a couple of sessions ago has a neat connection to what they're doing now. There's a continual process, negotiated between me and the players, of generating material, reacting to it, creating a story to explain it, and then generating more material based on that story.

Friday, April 24, 2009

On the Merits of Dungeons

The other bit of gaming I did last weekend (besides Trollsmyth's Labyrinth Lord game, which was particularly excellent and which I know I haven't been writing about enough, even considering that it's harder for me to blog as a player than as a GM) was a couple of hours of Swords & Wizardry, in the previously mentioned boyfriend's brand new dungeon.

He's hooked. Wishing-he-had-graph-paper-in-class, can't-wait-to-play-again, completely, totally, fantastically hooked. He's got a bunch of ideas about how to expand his dungeon (currently a Mayan/Aztec/conquistador mash-up thing, but he's thinking the next level, accessible through a big ol' pyramid, will be Napoleonic Egypt) and has started suggesting new kinds of games to play, including a ship-going, ocean-hopping game. He finally gets why I spend so much time on this stuff.

Because he didn't, the first couple of times I tried to get him into gaming. (Real gaming, not that weak-ass computer stuff all the kids are into these days.) Part of it, the first time, was that he was gaming with a bunch of people he'd just met for the first time; part of it was he's able to get into it a lot easier when it's just me and him. He still kind of thinks of Dungeons & Dragons as something that he'll get made fun of for, a feeling that, while I don't really share it, I do understand. Less people means less waiting, too, which particularly helps with someone who's only other gaming experience comes from computers.

But I can't help thinking that maybe, just maybe, some of it is the style of play. He likes planning expeditions, picking out equipment, being cautious, and exploring. The other two games he's played were a lot more character based, more about goofy antics and "acting out a role." Which is great for a lot of people, but for whatever reason that kind of game didn't quite click with him. The dungeon does.

From here, I expect he'll branch out a bit, once he's got the core experience down and he's ready to move on to bigger and better things. But it just drove home to me that there is real value in the dungeon style of play, even simply as an introductory stepping stone: a straightforward, structured shallow-end in the pool of roleplaying. (Though that's definitely not all it is, as I'm learning in Trollsmyth's game.) Give up the dungeon entirely, and you lose players for whom it works in a way that more "sophisticated" styles of play really don't.

So score one for the Old School Renaissance. This really is turning out to be the Year of the Dungeon.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Megadungeon Session 2: A Learning Experience

Friday night also marked the second ever foray into the megadungeon. (Yet nameless, I'm still trying to figure out a balance between the ridiculous criteria I've come up with and keeping it from sounding like a 4e power.) Halfway through the Traveller session, two players had to leave, and rather than soldier on so shorthanded I suggested that we play this crazy dungeon I'd been working on. The idea was met with enthusiasm, and so we spent an hour making characters, and another two dungeoneering.

The party consisted of:
Din Aleboot, 1st-level Dwarf (Alice Dice in the Traveller game)
Fitz the Fantastic, 1st-level magic user (Shmiff)
Yui Fluorite, 1st-level Cleric (Nina Ka-Fai)

This party was significantly less cautious than Zane Archer was in his expedition. Still fairly cautious -- they listened at doors, looked up at the ceilings, and so on -- but they were much more willing to fiddle with things. Fitz smashed a glass gramaphone, Din dipped things into mysterious freezing pools, and Yui picked up tiny robots using acid to etch things onto the walls. ("There are robots in this dungeon?!")

They also mapped, which let them make some intelligent decisions ("this door probably just leads to that room we've already explored") and helpd them escape at the end of the night, when I declared that it was getting late, and that anyone who was still in the dungeon when I got too tired to run would be subject to a roll on "The Table of Probable Doom." That got their attention, because when I say "them," I mean "Fitz and Din," and shortly thereafter just Fitz.

See, they'd run afoul of a heat ray. You get zapped, you save vs. 3d6 damage and melting of your armor/other metal. (Which I neglected to mention at the time, but further expeditions will discover these corpses in the proper condition.) Yui got zapped and died, and then while trying to get back towards the entrance Din was also zapped, and promptly died.

They took it pretty well, since they'd been kind of expecting something like that to happen based on my brief descriptions of the enterprise, but I'm entirely happy with how it went. The triggering mechanism wasn't completely clear, even in my mind, and then once I did come up with a decent mechanism a few seconds later, it was still something that was going to be pretty close to undecipherable to the players, without some serious investigation and perhaps a stroke of luck.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing. But this particular trap only gets set off some of the time, even when the triggering mechanism is met, and what I learned is that this actually can make a trap more deadly, not less. Because, for instance, you can end up with a character on the wrong side of potential death. And you can get PCs thinking they know something that doesn't trigger it, when really what's happened is they got lucky on a die roll.

So, learning experience. The players aren't bothered by it, and they've got a map so they know to avoid that room from now on. But I now I've got some things to do differently in the future.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Trouble with Traveller

Friday's session of Traveller was a little on the disappointing side. Not that it wasn't fun -- for me, and Duke Burrin's player. But the rest of them mostly sat around and watched, occasionally engineering their own antics.

This unhappy circumstance was theoretically a product of necessity: they'd misjumped at the end of last session, and were a good half a dozen parsecs away from where they wanted to be. That many jumps means a lot of trading and a lot of accounting. But I need a better way to handle these long stretches of dice rolling and calculation necessitated by so many jumps in a row. Especially since, in our current system, it takes much longer than I should because I'm constantly getting interrupted by other, more interesting things that one or two of the other players are doing -- which then just shifts the "me and one player are having fun" problem to a different part of the table.

One way to handle this would be to have some "interesting" things pop up along the way, and the last time they misjumped that's exactly what I did. But with the end of the semester fast approaching, carrying with it at the very least a significant campaign hiatus, I didn't want to distract too much from the multitude of goals they already have. More action would have been more interesting, but it also would have meant significantly delaying their arrival at the original destination (where they hope to pick up some clues as to the location of Athene's fiancé, and perhaps learn some more about the various KordCorp resistance movements they keep running into) -- perhaps even until next year.

It would also be possible to eliminate misjumps entirely, but I think it's important to have at least that possibility present. The crew has taken steps to reduce the probability of a misjump, and that's good, but I wouldn't want to eliminate them entirely. At the very least, they give them a reason to go off and see parts of the subsector, and surrounding subsectors, that they wouldn't otherwise go to, and I believe it's important to maintain an element of danger in space travel. Particularly considering that it's one of their main activities, it's helpful to have a bit of tension during that process.

Still. The current situation isn't acceptable. Burrin's player has suggested that he write an automated program to do most of the trade table stuff, which would help. I'm also thinking that next time this happens, I'll try to handle most of it by e-mail rather than taking up table time.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Game Day Rituals

One of the things I like about running a game is the demands it puts on me. Most of the time, I don't have to be at peak operational capacity. It's nice if I am all there, but when it comes to hanging out, school, and most of my other hobbies, I can get away with running at 50% or 60%. Gaming doesn't give me that luxury: I have to be 100% there as much as possible. It takes pretty close to my full mental capacity to simultaneously visualize the game environment, track player interest and involvement, easily call up important backstory details, remember where all my different notes are, roleplay NPCs properly, and think up interesting responses to player actions.

Accordingly, I've got a lot of little things that I do to get myself into the right state of mind and stay there. In no particular order:

Shower: And all my other hygiene routines. If I'm not clean, I get uncomfortable. If I'm uncomfortable, I can't run the game.

Power Shirt: At the very least my clothes have to be clean. But it helps me to get into "game mood" if I'm wearing the right clothes: jeans and t-shirt, usually black, generally geek related. My batsignal shirt is best, but I've got a bunch of other ThinkGeek type shirts that will do the trick.

Food: Need to have eaten some food. Need to have eaten the right food. If I haven't eaten, I get grouchy. If I've had too much sugar or caffeine or junk food, I either get way overstimulated or I go to sleep. I generally stick to baby carrots and cherries at the game table. Tasty, crunchy, and won't make me crazy.

Water: At the table, I drink a lot of water. Ludicrous amounts of water. I'm drinking water constantly. It keeps my voice from going out and keeps me from getting dehydration headaches. Best of all, it gives me a great excuse to leave the room and take a five minute break to think. (My players get all nervous when I do that, too.)

Books: It helps to have a big ol' stack of game books nearby, even if I'm not going to use them. I did this unconsciously for a while: when I was running a d20 system, I'd just cart out all my d20 stuff out of habit, even if I was running Arcana Evolved and so my d20 Modern books and so on weren't going to be much help. (I've got about two feet worth of books for various d20 system.) These days, I like to have my AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide close at hand, even when I'm running Traveller, so I can tap the Awesome Power contained therein. (NPC charts, mostly.) And I brought my copies of Fight On! to the last game, for pretty much the same reason.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Random Physical Description?

I'm happy with the system I've got for coming up with NPC names on the fly, but off-hand I don't know of a good random description generator. I need that more than the names, really; my physical descriptions tend to devolve into "he has, um, brown hair," whereas with names I just start naming them after people I know.

Any of you folks know of such a thing? Double-points if it includes sci-fi compatible clothes and so on, but all I really need is a basic physical description. Clothes I can manage. ("He looks fancy.")

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

D&D is a Grand Romance

So there's this response to the usual complaints about the Wizards of the Coast editions of D&D that goes something like: "What are you guys complaining about? You've got your own games to play. Stop talking about how you don't like ours."

And that's a perfectly legitimate position. Personally, I see a lot of value in figuring out exactly what it is you don't like about a game, especially a game that can be easily compared to a game you do like, but within the internet community those discussions often wind into less useful complaints. It's a lot better to get some enthusiasm going about the game you do play than spend all your time grousing about the game that you don't.

But it's like this: Imagine that you know a guy. (Or a girl. Adjust the pronouns to taste. Works either way.) A guy you really, really like, and who likes you back. You start dating, and it's great. He gets you, you get him, and you spend a couple of really wonderful years together. Sure, some of the time things get frustrating, neither of you is perfect, but you're able to work past that. You start seeing a future together.

But then he changes. First a little, then more and more, until suddenly that thing that you had, that perfect something between you, is gone. You break up, and he moves on to some other tart, who's younger and richer and better looking. You find a new guy yourself (if we want to take this metaphor way too far, you clone your old boyfriend and download his old memories into the clone) but even if you're glad your old boyfriend is happy, it still hurts.

Now, I can't speak for everyone who plays an older version of D&D in preference to 4e. All I've got is my own experience, of being way into 3rd Edition with a major company supporting it and being part of the dominant gaming experience, and then trying to move on to 4e and finding out that it just wasn't for me, at least as a long-term, go-to kind of game. I'm happy with the D&D I have now -- both my beloved 3rd edition and my new old school flames. But that doesn't mean that it's not a little weird to have everyone playing and discussing and caring about something else.

Monday, April 13, 2009

A Theory On Player Antics

The Zane Archer/Dave Bowman incident prompted a comment from me on the weirdness of players, and how "normal people don't do this kind of thing." The players responded with a theory of their own: that players pull bullshit stunts like that because they're trying to freak out the GM.

This isn't news to us. Several of them have straight out said that their goal is to get me to put my head in my hands in amused exasperation. Which I do, on a fairly regular basis. (Though only while GMing, I'm much more expressive than usual while I'm running the game.) I'm generally more entertained by their antics than annoyed, so things work out fairly well.

But it does strike me as a good theory for handling player weirdness in general. They're out to one-up or freak out tick off the GM, who tends to be fairly invested in the world and the campaign and thus responds when they do something bizarre to it. A bit of (hopefully friendly) competition.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

A First Foray Into the Underworld

Last night I ran my megadungeon for the first time. We got off to a later start than I wanted (it was midnight by the time the game actually got going) but we spent a solid three hours playing, and a got a good chunk of the first level explored.

This was a solo game. I'm playing with my boyfriend, whom I've tried to introduce to roleplaying a couple of times before (he played Tim the Barbarian, who became the Mayor of Gnometown) but it's never quite stuck. He's not completely comfortable "pretending to be someone else," and I suspected that both the more player-challenging nature of dungeon and not having other people around to look stupid in front of would help. It did: he's been bugging me to play again today, and I have high hopes that this will become a regular campaign.

Solo gaming makes it a great third campaign, (you'll recall I'm already running Traveller and playing Labyrinth Lord online) because we don't really have to worry about scheduling it. When we've got a couple of hours, we can play. At some point, I'd like to run more players through it, but the nice thing about the dungeon is that I can have different groups of characters who don't necessarily all delve together, or even know about each other. So long as everyone picks up out of the dungeon and heads back to town by the end of the session, it's all good.

We're running Swords & Wizardry, with only a few rules tweaks at the moment (concerning shields, mostly) but I'm planning to add more as we go along, in response to both my own mad whims and actual campaign needs. We've already got a few changes that need to be made to the equipment list: he wants to buy jars, and finds the weapon weights woefully inaccurate. (That'll teach me to play D&D with a medieval re-enactor.)

He's running Zane Archer, fighting-man. (I told him about the Traveller game, and he likes the name.) So far, we've been running pretty light on background. I know the name of the small town where he's based, and I have a rough sketch of the terrain between it and the dungeon, but that's about the extent of my world information so far. We didn't determine much more about Zane, either; I suggested he was a follower of "the moon goddess," owing to the silver holy symbol he'd picked up while buying equipment (in case of werewolves) but beyond that he's just a guy who does crazy things like wander around in monster-infested labyrinths because he thinks there might be treasure.

I was impressed at how he handled himself in the dungeon -- apparently, he's been paying attention when I talk about how dangerous and weird dungeons are. He listened at doors, backed off from fights that didn't have to happen, brought a ten-foot-pole (which he used to carry his lantern and sack on, so he could easily set them down in a fight, as well as to push open doors) and generally dungeoneered. He was sort of annoyed that being "nice" to the monsters in the dungeon didn't always make him friends (trying to help down what I described as "a giant demon-frog" hanging on hooks got him attacked by said frog) but overall his approach of "talk first, stab later" kept him from getting killed.

Unfortunately, he's not mapping (yet) and he didn't bring any henchmen. I'm hoping the dungeon will convince him of the value of the two practices; he's already gotten a bit lost, and missed a couple of semi-important features that would have been obvious if he'd had a map in front of him. If a wandering monster check (brought on by his use of a signal whistle to taunt some goblins into following him out of the room they were looting) hadn't brought the intelligent white ape he'd bothered earlier and who was more than happy to lead him out of the dungeon, the session would have taken quite a while to end. As it was, we were both tired, and I was happy for a convenient excuse to get Zane back to town.

The main thing I'm not happy with about the dungeon is that it doesn't yet have a name. Zane knows it as "those weird ruins off in the hills" which is enough to get a game going, but at some point I really need to get around to naming the dang thing. I want to give it a color+noun name, and I think the first part of that will be either "jade" or "jet," but I've yet to think of a good noun that starts with "b" and isn't "blood."

Overall, though, a good session. It'll be interesting to see how things develop from here.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

At Star's End: Session 6

So tonight's game, sadly, contained no actual frogs. I tossed in a line that would have led in that direction, but the moment wasn't right. They did, however, end up naming an NPC after him, so that was good. Next week there will be frogs, I think. And I've got plans to run my megadungeon for the first time tomorrow night, so Arneson-ian goodness still awaits.

That NPC, incidentally? The weirdest thing that I've ever had a group of players do. (Normally I don't do the whole "tell me about your campaign" thing but I have to get this out there.) He's Zane Archer, a convict and accountant who for typically complicated reasons has been tooling around with them for basically the whole campaign. Tonight, Duke Marlow Burrin (the captain) and Alice Dice (the crazy pirate who's slept with everyone) threatened his life and implied they were going to send him back to prison, on account of a "treasure" that he'd somewhat stupidly mentioned. Then Burrin (for, again, excessively complicated reasons) changed his mind, decided to hire Zane, but because he's not technically out of prison had to create a new identity for him -- which included changing his name to Dave Bowman, knighting him, and convincing him to get plastic surgery, so now he looks like Johnny Depp.

(Emily, Alice Dice's player, was very surprised later when she discovered a "David Bowman" in the copy of Fight On! she was perusing while Burrin was busy space-accounting.)

In other news, they've now got enough money that they don't have to constantly scramble for enough to pay the mortgage on their ship, and to start playing with speculative trade a little bit. Which is good, because they've now got a number of non-monetary interests developing, so it's nice that they can afford to go a little out of their way occasionally.

And this session reminded me that I really, really need to get my notes in some kind of coherent order. My NPCs in particular are a mess -- there are several that are just names on paper, and we'd been on a several week long break until last week's session so my memory can't pick up the slack. This campaign has a lot of NPCs, all doing minor but important things, and my usual system of "if they're important, I'll remember why" isn't cutting it.

Overall, this campaign is really starting to come to life. I spent the first few sessions kind of throwing things at the party, and now enough things have started to stick that it's getting really interesting.

Friday, April 10, 2009

A First Look at Fight On!

Okay, so this isn't the review to end all reviews: I haven't finished reading all four issues yet, and I haven't used any of it in play, so expect more detailed reports when that time rolls around. But even without reading every word of every issue, I've still got this to say: Score one to Fight On! for accessibility. This thing is aces for the old-school-curious.

Now, I say this as someone who knows her way around some old school blogs. I've been reading about megadungeons and OD&D and sandbox games for a while, so none of this is news to me. But I'd be surprised to see people picking up Fight On! without at having heard of the old school renaissance, so whether or not someone who didn't have that prior knowledge would understand it is neither here nor there.

For someone like me, who's got a general idea of what's going on but no real practical experience with it, Fight On! is perfect.

First off, there's the alternate rules and crazy add ons. Everything from magic items to alternate sub-systems of spell-casting to awesome combat tweaks. There's demonstrations of what you can do with random tables; I'm thinking here of "The Devil's in the Details," by Kesher, which also provides a nice familiar fantasy counterpoint to the really wacky things like "The Space Wizards," by the quite likely mad Paul Czege. It's all very easy to work into a game -- which makes me think that I really ought to be playing this, now.

Then there's the adventures. Again, there's a lot of variety: short, long, location-based, event-based, "normal" fantasy, wacky crashed-spaceship type stuff, and a few showing off some classic settings, Tekumel and Wilderlands and the like. Just like the rules add-ons, they're good demonstrations of what you can do with a good dungeon, and many of them practically beg to be dropped into a campaign immediately -- or used to start up a new one.

Finally, there's the how-to articles. "The Wilderness Architect," by Victor Raymond, was particularly eye-opening: here's a way to set up a campaign without getting bogged down in details. Just grab some dice and go. With this as your wilderness (or James Maliszewski's wilderness map), a bunch of adventures to drop in on various parts of the map, and The Darkness Beneath as your tentpole dungeon, you literally have a campaign ready to go.

It's a campaign you'd still have to put a little work into to set up, and it's a campaign that would naturally evolve as you ran it. Fight On! pretty much begs you to go out and start making up your own stuff, but if you're not ready to jump in right away, the magazine still eases you in to that kind of play.

But the main use I see myself getting out of these books is explaining this stuff to my friends. Good art, interesting to read, and explains by doing: this is something I can hand to the people who have been tolerating my crazy rants on the subject and show them what I've been telling them about. I can even leave it strategically strewn on a game table, so they think they're picking it up and thumbing through it on their own accord.

The title's pretty great for that, too. You tell someone that you're reading "Fight On!" and they listen to you.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Thank You, Dave Arneson

I still don't know what to say. Some of that is that James Maliszewski, Zachary the First, and Mike Mearls have already said most of what needs to be said. We all owe Professor Arneson an immeasurable debt.

I know what I can do: I'm adding a Blackmoor-themed sublevel to the megadungeon, and I'm dedicating this week's Traveller game to his memory. (No dungeons, but there's plenty of room for a few ravenous frog monsters.) But it still doesn't feel like enough.

Dave Arneson co-created Dungeons & Dragons. The game that got me many of my closest friends. The game that's given me countless knowledge of excitement, frustration, and joy. There are days when I feel like D&D -- Friday nights in basements with the handful of people in the world who seemed to really understand me -- got me through high school, and a lot of dark times during it.

I'm sure a lot of people have stories like this, but when I was introduced to D&D, I was a pretty lonely kid. A world where I didn't find D&D is a world I don't want to think about too hard.

So how do I do justice to that?

Maybe someday I'll find the right words. Right now, all I can do is keep gaming, and do my part to keep the flame going.

Thank you, Professor Arneson. I hope someday I'll live up to what you've given me.

Calling All Traveller Refs

I keep hearing about how easy Traveller's combat is. For the most part, I agree -- particularly that it's fast, which is nice for someone who's used to running post-1992 editions of D&D. But tracking damage and attendant modifiers for NPC has been giving me a bit of a headache, especially when I'm handling several different NPCs, as I am wont to do in combat. There's three different bins that damage needs to go into, and all the bins do different things.

I've started using a hit-point-esque system, where End+Str or End+Dex, whichever is greater, gives me hit points and then the remaining attribute gives me how far the character can go into negative hit-points before dying. That makes it hard to keep track of changing modifiers, so I handwave it. ("Eh, he looks pretty messed up, -1 to attack.") This works out okay, but I'm worried that I'm missing a more elegant or classic solution.

Fellow Traveller refs, I seek your wisdom! How do you handle NPC damage when you're tracking it for several NPCs at once?

Monday, April 06, 2009

Quick News Blogging Go!

Dave Arneson is in the hospital, and he may not survive the next couple of days. His family asks that no flowers, cards, etc. be sent. They'd like any well-wishes to be posted at this thread so they can pass them along to him.

Wizards of the Coast has banned all sales of their products in PDF. Announced today and it goes into effect today. That includes out-of-print products and editions. Apparently they're worried about piracy. So now the only way to get PDFs is to pirate them. Good job, guys.

I've got Fight On! #1, #2, #3, #4, as well as Swords & Wizardry. (Thank you, Lulu, for not totally borking my order.) I'll be reading them over the next few weeks, and probably post something as well.

Together, this means that it's time to fire up the megadungeon again. I've got a commitment to test it out with a solo run this weekend. All I really need to do to get it expedition ready is rough out a map for Level 2; I can stock it randomly if need be. Best of all: if I print out Sham's Trap Tables, I can do it completely computer free now.

And the I am most definitely not running 4e again this summer. I don't want to be beholden to a company that I can't predict. Too bad, since I was kind of jazzed about trying out some of the stuff in PHB 2. (All divine gnome party for the win!) Most likely it'll be Arcana Evolved instead, but I'm not yet one-hundred-percent committed to the idea.

And as a final note: I'm experimenting with a MWF blogging schedule for the next couple of weeks, to try and smooth out my massive posting binges and droughts.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

A Brief Session Report

Last night's game went smashingly well. They fought flaming topiaries, stole a Lamborghini, and got their Captain stuck in a hospital under heavy guard.

Two factors: one, I pushed on them hard, and they pushed back. None of this "we have five missions, how can we do as many of them at once?" nonsense. None of the wandering around, waiting for me to do things that typified some of the earlier sessions. Not that they weren't fun, but it was beginning to stress me out.

No, this time, the conference room they were in exploded, they had to fight their way out, and suddenly it's all schemes and plans. They do something, I react, they react to me, and everyone's happy. And I think I struck a good balance between "giving them stuff because it's cool" and "arbitrary challenge" -- I did a fairly good job of responding to their plans with problems, but not such serious problems as they couldn't overcome.

The second factor was the absences of the player who up until this time has dominated the game. He's a Duke, he's the Captain of the ship, he's the most experienced roleplayer, he normally GMs, and he's got a fairly forceful personality even outside the game. This was the first time the rest of the gang has been in charge of making the plans, which was a very good thing, and produced a much more balanced pattern of involvement than we've had so far. Hopefully, their newfound confidence will continue even once he's here again, but otherwise I'm going to need to talk to him about toning it down a bit.