Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Forge Monsters

At the behest of noisms. Stats are provided in the form of references to similar Pathfinder monsters, along with any modifications necessary. If you need combat statistics for a bubble worm I'm not sure I can help you.

Crimson Seeker Asp
The crimson seeker asp is a sort of clockwork device, studded with diamonds. When dipped in wine, their color darkens to a deep, blood red, and the asp will unerringly seek out the nearest person from the region of the wine's origin and attempt to bite them. (What constitutes a wine "region" is left to the particulars of the campaign world. It might be as large as, say, France, but could be as small as a particular county or vineyard.) If the region produces on white wine for some reason, you are out of luck: the asp despises white wine, and will be rendered permanently inert if immersed in it for any extended length of time.

In combat, treat as a venomous snake, except that its poison deals 1d4 Wis damage. (For an asp treated with a wine of about 10% ABV. Weaker varieties might deal as little as 1d2 or even 1 points of Wis damage, while stronger varieties might deal as much as 1d8.) After 3 bites, or once it is reduced to 0 hp, the color drains out of the crystals along its back and it becomes inert again.

Bubble Worm
Appears to be a chain of tiny iridescent bubbles. It's actually a sort of creature. It eats secrets (or, failing that, silk). Every secret uttered in its presence is forgotten by one creature who knows it, and the worm adds a bubble to its length. A properly prepared sorcerer can read the secrets from the bubbles, though this destroys the bubble in question. The worm will resist such treatment, as it causes them great discomfort and can even kill them if carried on long enough. (10% chance per bubble read, +5% cumulative for each bubble in a single day.) If it absorbs an entire secret, to the point where no one living remembers it anymore, it lays an egg. The egg is worth 100 gp x the number of creatures who once knew it. It is commonly worn by the nobility as jewelry in certain decadent courts.

Vapor Cat
It appears to be an entirely ordinary cat, usually grayish, though sometimes cream colored or even blue. Wherever it goes, fog goes with it. When half a dozen or more gather in a single place, it rains. If a vapor cat gets wet, it dissolves. The puddle-cat maintains its general organization and can slip around at will in this form; with a little work, it can be coaxed into a warm bottle. Poured out in a warm, dry place, it will reform into a cat (though slightly different in appearance, to the discerning eye) and regard the owner of the bottle as its master. They make pleasant (if slightly damp) companions, but are useful only insofar as they are unchallenged at catching magical vermin, which they carry to their master mostly undamaged.

Fur Lobster
Not actually a lobster. It's a large, crustacean-like monster that makes nests for its eggs that it lines with fur. To that end, it is weirdly attracted to fur and hair. The small ones simply seek it out where it's already fallen, or remove it from sleeping creatures. The larger ones can be extremely aggressive, and seek out warm-blooded mammals to attack and eat, the larger and furrier the better. Treat as a giant scorpion, but without the sting, and an uncanny ability to track warm, moving objects over long distances.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Further Obvious Insights

The process of generating situations in the way that I described yesterday is much, much easier for me when the style of the game is a well-established sort of beast. It's stupidly easy in a bizarre mega-dungeon, and it's fairly easy when I'm imitating a game that I've played in myself. Right now, for instance, I'm running a game for Dangerfox that's based on the game I've been playing with Trollsmyth for years. The setting is based on the one that Trollsmyth uses, the situation is very similar to the one I've been playing in for years, and I know the kind of scenes that I want to achieve. Most importantly, I know the kinds of goals that Dangerfox's character needs to have to make those scenes interesting, and I have a rough idea of how to give him the opportunity to develop those goals. If he doesn't, I have some ideas for how to adapt the game to accommodate other sorts of motivations.

That's really what's important here: Player and character goals. I've been making the mistake, in a lot of these games, of trying to get my players to do my work for me -- of looking to them to define the game, on the thought that they'll enjoy it more and it'll be easier for me if it's based on "what they want." Which is absolutely and endlessly true, but it doesn't do me any good if I don't know what kinds of situations to present at the table. I just sit there throwing either random situations based on my notes (or thin air) at them, or "logical" (ish) responses to their own actions, and without any yardstick for what makes a "good" scene I just keep getting more and more nervous, without any idea of what's "right" or any foundation for moving my notes or ideas or whatever else it is I'm bringing to the table into the game. It doesn't really matter if those notes came from me or the players: they're not the point.

Goals, though. Goals are something that only the players can come up with, and that can provide me a firm foundation on which to build something that I know is interesting, and fun, and that I can properly referee. A situation can always be built on the foundation of "here is something the player's want, and here is an obstacle in their way." A more interesting scene can similarly be built out of "here are two things the players want, set up in some way that they can only have one of them." (Unless, of course, they are very clever.) If I know the players (and characters) goals, then I have the game. A lot of my communication with players has historically been about determining what their aims are in-game; lately, I've been thinking as well about how to give them the information that they need to devise interesting goals.

That's another problem with these recent games: I've just been throwing "stuff" at the players in the early sessions, and hoping that they come up with interesting ideas about what to do with it. It'd be much easier, for everyone involved, to come up with a proper adventure, with some pre-loaded goals, at the very beginning, and allow players to develop their own ideas from there, once we're properly into the game. Much less flailing about for everyone.

Probably the most important thought I've had along these lines is that there are certain situations that I just can't render with any fidelity. There are a lot of situations that I either don't know enough about, don't have enough interest in, or can't picture clearly enough in my mind to be able to describe well enough that the players have enough information to make decisions about, in a granular way. In response, I've been attempting to get more comfortable with and confident at abstracting these situations.

For instance: I know nothing about wilderness survival. My spatial imagination is similarly underdeveloped. (Seriously -- my attempts to draw maps of places I spend every day in go hilariously awry because I just can't picture them properly, never mind imaginary places I've never been.) So it's difficult for me to handle a party running around the woods from simply a map and a key. Considering that this is what Trollsmyth, in the Pathfinder game I've been running for him lately, is doing, this has been a bit of a problem. I've discovered, though, that a general idea of the terrain, a random encounter chart, and the Survival skill have been good enough for me to fake it. I can take a point on the map and a few rolls and say, "Okay, here's where & how you found that thing you were trying to get," or "Here's what the area immediately around you looks like, and here's a Problem." I don't have a damn clue what any of the stuff inbetween these little interludes looks like, really, ("You walk for 2 miles through...") but it's enough to run a game on.

Monday, August 15, 2011

A Blindingly Obvious Insight

On Friday I made mention of "figuring out my DMing style," in service to what was really another point entirely. What I was talking about, though, was something else that's been on my mind a lot: for the last couple of years, I haven't really enjoyed running games. Most of the sessions and campaigns I've run have been, to some degree or another, poorly-improvised anxiety-fests that I've found, at best, as least as nerve-wracking as they were fun. At worst, I've killed the session half an hour in because I honestly could not think of what to do next -- or even really think much at all.

This is vexing, because in high school I enjoyed DMing more than most other things. I don't think I'm alone here in saying that I'm pretty omnivorous in the things that I enjoy learning and the stuff that I've gotten good at over the years. DMing is one of the few activities that exercises all of it -- skills social, linguistic, creative, and mathematical, never mind a great deal of random accumulated knowledge -- and that furthermore demands that I be aware, present, and fully operational for any length of time. Particularly when I was in school, being repeatedly warned that I would find whatever fresh hell was waiting for me next year "challenging," and being repeatedly disappointed, this was a pretty vital as at least an occasional feature in my social and recreational life.

I've spent the last year threatening at least occasionally to quit DMing entirely, on the idea that I've grown out of it, or I've found other things to occupy my time, or maybe it just was never as fun as I thought. Fortunately or unfortunately, I find that I just can't quit thinking about the dang thing, so I appear to be stuck with it. So I've been trying to figure out a way to run games without allowing them to become a vehicle for anxiety, at least to the point of unpleasantness.

The trick seems to be -- based on some very limited success in the past few weeks -- as it is with many things, preparation. The best antidote for anxiety is confidence, and the best path to confidence is sufficient knowledge to support improvisation.

Which brings me back to my original point. When I say "what I want going into the game," I'm not talking about style or system or mood. When I say "preparation," I don't mean notes or characters or locations or any of the junk I've been writing up and thinking about and talking about for any of the games I've run in the past couple of years. What I mean is knowing two things:

1. Given where the last session ended (or the circumstances devised for the start of the game), what's a situation that will give the characters (and/or their players) and an interesting decision to make?

2. Given the range of likely or possible decisions that could be made, what's the next such situation likely after that? (And after that, and after that, and after that.)

In the second place, obviously, this means knowing the characters and the campaign in order to have a sort of feel for where things are likely to go, and to be able to come up with something even if and when the players don't match those expectations. This means knowing the who and the what of the situation in question well enough to make the situation feel "real" to me -- that is, to make the decision seem significant -- and knowing what information I need to communicate to the players to make it seem real to them.

As indicated in the title, this is pretty obvious. This, however, is what makes it important to me: It's important, it's necessary, and despite that I've been struggling with it, and a number of other issues that it implies and is implied by.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Inside the Oddysey/Trollsmyth Hall of Secrets

[[Other people have said stuff like this before, but I've been thinking about it a lot lately. Especially the bit at the beginning. Also, this started as a conversation about poodles.]]

Oddysey: I'm finally starting to learn my own DMing style, and it really does work better if I know what I want going into the game.
Trollsmyth: YES!!!!1!!eleven!! :D
Oddysey: Jeez... you'd think it wouldn't take me a decade to figure that out...
Trollsmyth: Pfft. I didn't figure it out until 2000, honestly. And I'd been playing since '82, so that's what, 18 years?!? ;D
Well, ok, that's not entirely true. I couldn't articulate it until 2000.
Oddysey: Yeah. Because as DMs, our instinct is to be responsive to the players. That has to be what draws us to DMing.
Trollsmyth: Yep.
Oddysey: But responsiveness, while a requirement for good DMing, can't be the foundational quality for a game.
I mean, my better games have always been marked by the fact that I was bringing so much to the game -- more than made it to the table.
Trollsmyth: Yep, absolutely.
Oddysey: It's not just a matter of "run what you want to run," though.
I mean, for me, I have to have a clear idea of what the game is going to look like before I run it.
I can't be fumbling around in the dark.
Does that make sense?
I don't mean railroading or "writing" the game.
Trollsmyth: No, it makes perfect sense.
There are a hell of a lot of assumptions that go into running a game. And not all are always the same from game to game, even with the same group running the same system.
Oddysey: In a lot of ways I think system is really the least important part of it.
Trollsmyth: Yep. It helps, but...'
I mean, how often does system show up in the Henet game these days? ;)
Oddysey: Yeah.
And like Zak has said, he's played a bunch of different games now with a bunch of different people and there's just as much differentiation between the games run by different people using the same system as there is between different systems.
He's said he doesn't really notice the system much. [[note: I can't find where he said this now, otherwise I'd have linked to it]]
I think probably style of system might make a difference but I don't know that -- especially for a one-shot -- there'd be much noticeable difference between 3.5 D&D and GURPS fantasy.
And none between GURPS and M&M.
Trollsmyth: Nope. And honestly, from 30k feet, there's not a lot of difference between those two.
Oddysey: GURPS would be better for a game where you did a lot of body-switching.
Trollsmyth: Ooo, yeah, it would.
Oddysey: One of the nice things about 4e GURPS is that it's very clear about which attributes go with you and which don't.
And in that case, personality mechanics might actually be good -- it'd give you some handholds to grab.
Trollsmyth: Huh... I hadn't noticed that about 4e.
Oddysey: There's a discussion of it in the body-switching power, I think.
I mean, basically, it's everything that's marked mental goes, physical stays, and social depends on exactly how the switch happens and whether people know about it.
But yeah. Anyway.
Outside of specific edge cases like that, it's better just to use the system that you're comfortable with.
And I don't know, when you get right down to it, how much difference there is between 0e and GURPS besides ease-of-use.
On a campaign level, that's another matter.
Trollsmyth: From 30k feet, there's not much. Even Dogs in the Vineyard shares a lot in common with those, when compared to a game like Amber diceless.
Oddysey: Yeah. Dogs is just crazy-deadly and puts deadliness entirely under the player's control.
Trollsmyth: Yep.
Oddysey: I really feel like us futzing around with system is a distraction from the real issues/decisions involved in finding "the perfect game."
Trollsmyth: Oh?
Oddysey: Not [[just]] us, specifically, but most serious RPG people. We spend a lot of time reading systems and talking about systems and choosing between systems and trying to find the "right" system for a game.
And I think that's a distraction from the real work that needs to be done to figure out what you want a game to be and how to get from here to there.
Trollsmyth: YES!
Oddysey: I mean, okay, to a certain degree, the system is important.
You really can't get the Amber experience from any other game.
Likewise, something like Burning Wheel (or D&D 4e) that has a lot of metagame pieces is going to give you a really different experience from something where it's easier to shove that stuff into the background.
But if you're deciding between two systems that are really just random number generators that you ignore when you get a better idea...

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Superhero Rejects

These are the guys our GM won't let us play:

The Boozer, who can control alcohol the way some heroes control water or fire, and creates an aura of drunkenness whenever he consumes alcohol. He can't get drunk himself. He finds this vexing.

Sanity Man, who psychoanalyzes people by punching them.

The Gecko, who has all the power's of a six-year-old's conception of a gecko. He can climb on walls, has a very long tongue, and an aura of fear.

There are more, but we couldn't come up with amusing enough names, so I've forgotten them.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Gaming Update

After a long dry spell (there was a two-month period where I wasn't gaming at all), I've suddenly got more gaming than I know what to do with, and I'm DMing again.

I'm still playing in Trollsmyth's Labyrinth Lord(-esque) chat game, and now I'm running Souls For Smuggler's Shiv, the first adventure in Paizo's Serpent's Skull Adventure Path as a solo game for him. We alternate who's running or playing, and we've been playing between 2 and 3 times a week.

Tonight I'm running another Pathfinder solo session for Dangerfox, also in online chat. This may or may not turn into a regular game.

A few weeks ago I played Old School Hack with Risus Monkey, which was great.

There's some talk of a Mutants & Masterminds game amongst those members of the high school crew who are still in the area. I'm working on a character, but I'm not sure yet whether it'll actually happen. Several people in that group have highly irregular schedules, and it's been several years since anyone other than me ran a campaign.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Why Female Pronouns in RPGs Matter to Me

In response to:
I mean this in the nicest way possible: I don’t care if an RPG uses “he”, “she”, “him or her”, or “it” as a pronoun throughout their examples. Whatever gets your point across. If certain pronouns in your examples help you deal with your white male guilt, go for it.

from RPG Blog II

First: I totally admit that this kind of thing can be taken too far. You've all seen the kind of thing I'm talking about. The "strong female character" is probably one example. Ridiculous, immersion-breaking gender inclusivity in an otherwise pretty straight up medieval fantasy world is another. In general, white guys patting themselves on that back for how sensitive and PC they're being is annoying, not inclusive.

And fundamentally? The way Zach's phrased it? That's cool, too. He doesn't care. Either way works. Good for him.

But me? I really, really like it when game manuals use female pronouns.

I don't really care what system you use. Alternating between sentences? Not perfect, but okay. The DM is female (or male) and the players are the reverse? That's pretty good. Characters referred to with one gender, and players with another? Also good. Alternate by chapter? Sure. Alternate by character class? Great. (Especially if it's a book where you have iconic characters used as examples throughout -- if you flip through the 3e books sometime you'll see that all the examples referring to a rogue use female pronouns, because Lidda is female. Props.)

Not that I won't use a book that only uses male pronouns. Sure. Grammatical clarity. Technically, it's "gender neutral." Okay.

But you know what? RPGs are a male-dominated hobby. Massively. Painfully. Most of the times, the books assume they're being read by men. The cover of the 4e player's guide came complete with a HALF-DRESSED SEXY WOMAN contorting her body in order to show off all of the "good bits", next to a completely reasonably dressed male dragondude. Okay. Whatever. For the most part, they are.

But it sure is nice when the makers of a game book go, "Hey! We know there are women reading this! We'd like there to be more!"

When I was 14, I never felt like RPGs were a male-dominated hobby. I knew it was. I was often the only girl there when I went to the game store. I hung out enough online to know that wasn't unique to my area. I knew the history. But my game-group was mostly female, and there were female players in the 3e D&D guides.

That was pretty cool. I'm not sure it would have kept me out if that hadn't been the case -- in fact, I'm pretty sure it wouldn't have. But I appreciated it. It impressed us. I still remember flipping through the Player's Handbook, and the DMG, and seeing "she" and "her," and thinking, "Right on! The designers know that girls are playing. They like that we're playing!" And talking about that with my friends. It made D&D into something that helped us be 14 year old female nerds, that helped us get through being 14 year olds, period, instead of something we had to fight against to be who we wanted to be.

Pronouns aren't the only way to do that. LotFP: WFRP doesn't have any female pronouns in it, but it's got a picture of a female player, and that's pretty rad, too. It's got equal opportunity grimdarkviolence and sexiness. Both of which are appreciated.

But goddamn, do a few female pronouns help.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Beer caps in my bucket

Most of this is from college (Somewhere in the last four months of college I discovered beer, and not too long after that I got into the habit of filling the fridge with beer snob beer on a regular basis. This is apparently a foolproof strategy for Attracting Boys.) but I've been adding a few caps a month at least since then. Once it fills up I'm going to figure out what to do with them all, and maybe do a more thorough accounting.

Kona Brewing Co.
Woodchuck (not actually beer)
Samuel Adams
Smutty Nose
Legend Ale (?) (It's a unicorn with wheat around it)
Samuel Adams Noble Pils
Blue Moon
Magic Hat
San Francisco Steam Beer ("America's Oldest Brewery")
San Migeul
Left Hand Brewing Company
Kirin Beer
Southern Tier Brewing Company
Bass Ale
Mike's Hard Lemonade (not beer either)
Tsingtao Beer
Bud Light (how the heck did that get in there?)
Sierra Nevada (pale ale... bleah)
Rogue (Dead Guy Ale! Hurray!)
Leinie's Summer Shandy (beer that tastes like lemonade! ... hurray?)
Highland Brewing Company
Xingu (one of the best dark beers I've ever had, *and* it comes in an awesome New World Explorer-looking bottle)
Shock Top
Star Hill (local favorite)