Sunday, September 25, 2011

Life in the Burn

Phew!!! It's been a long and arduous month. I started this month deciding I would write up the various species (read the misnomer 'races') foe the OverBurn RPG. Well, along the way I got ideas for the dice mechanics, the skill system, and maybe a wee bit of writing difficulty. I finally finished the write-up on the species; it's a little unpolished but at least the section is finished.

So, what species am I putting into the game? Well, I've settled on seven distinct species that will give the players something to choose from. A few of the races are:

  • True Humans - Normal people that have evolved.
  • Rovdyr - Bipedal reptiles that have declared war on humans.
  • Ralshasa - Genetically created race of cat-people.
  • Gene-Borne Humans - Humans that were enhanced before the apocalypse.

The remaining species I'm leaving for the game, but I am quite happy with the turn out. Now to find someone to look them over.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

I Search the Dungeon for Anything

I am an old school gamer. The first gaming book I ever looked at was the Fiend Folio released in 1981. This book set the stage for me. The artwork was Lovecraftesque and those brits know how to make creepy monster.

Back in those days, there was a different style to gaming. The player was more involved with game and the character was more often just a set of guidelines by which you played the game. I feel more detached from the game then I did in those days. Far too often the game master describes the next room and the response turns into:
Player 1: I search for Traps.
Player 2: I search for Hidden doors.
Player 3: I search for treasure.
Player 4: I search the dungeon!!!
The players then roll the search skill and who ever rolls highest wins (not who rolls a successful search skill). So the game master slows and takes each one in stride.
Who is searching for traps?
[hands raise]
Roll your search. [spots the highest roll]
Ok, this is what you notice.
Then the next section is addressed.
Who is searching for hidden doors?
[hands raise]
Roll your search. [spots the highest roll]
Ok, you find a secret door and it leads to the next room.
Wait a minute!?! The person who rolled the highest is the same person who rolled the highest when checking for traps. Never mind the fact that he was searching for traps at the same time that I was looking for a secret door. Regardless of who finds it, the story advances the same so what's the difference? Well for me I just stop rolling skill checks. Invariably there is someone out there who has power sank more points in the appropriated skills and unless I'm playing a Rogue, I never seem to have the points to really make a difference. Not that it maters much because I don't feel the What-Roll-success!!! is actual role-playing. I recall my early sessions going something like:
GM: [Describes the room] What do you do?
Player 1: I'm going to the north wall and searching for any seams that may indicate a secret door.
Player 2: Yeah, I'm going to do the same on the east wall, but since its a flagstone wall unlike the others, I'm going to press on the flagstones to see if there's a hidden switch.
Player 3. I'll help out by searching the south wall.
Player 4: and I'll take the west wall.
DM: Player 1, the north wall is smooth stones. If there are any seems, a master dwarf mason would have to spot it. Player 2 you find a loose flagstone, it doesn't appear to be a switch but it appears you can pry it loose. Player 3, you find an iron ring set into the wall. You see the seems of the block it is set in and it appears to be a 3 foot by 3 foot section of the wall. Player 4, the south wall is as non-nondescript as the north wall.
Player 3: Hey guys I found a ring. *Is it a like a prison ring to shackle someone?
DM: You see grate marks on the floor, as if it has been pulled out a drug across the stone floor.
Player 3: Hey Player 1, you're pretty strong. Can you pull this out?
Player 1: I attempt pull out the stone.
GM: You pull out the stone block which turns out to be a 3 foot cube.
Player 2: Wait a minute, I look closely at the ceiling to see if I notice anything.
GM: In the shadowy darkness of the ceiling you can barely make out a black square. You believe that if you stand on the block, you could peer into the abyss.
There may have been some rolls mixed in there, but you never really knew if was a roll to reveal something, or just a roll to throw you off. Suffice it to say, you would immerse yourself into the world more, where now you seem to immerse yourself into the rules. You spend a large amount of time scouring the rules for something that would be useful, or else you pick up something that you might be able to in some rare situation.

Mind you this all prior 4th edition. The latest and greatest edition of D&D appears that it would help go back to that old style gaming; Combat is set, stream lined, no arguments, and everything is spelled out. Well not exactly, 4th edition suffers from information overload, and most of it in regards to combat maneuvers. Sure its easy to run a combat, but honestly, you have no leeway to actually role-play.

Lets take the benchmark spell Fireball. So now a fireball fills a certain number of squares and you know exactly where to place it for maximum effectiveness. 3rd edition is the same and I don't like it much either. But look back at a previous edition to that:
Area of Effect: 20-foot radius
Desription: [...] The fireball fills an area equal to its normal physical volume (roughly 33,000 cubic feet -- thirty-three 10' x 10' x 10' cubes).
How many of you just looked at the 20' radius and made the grievous error of casting fireball in a dungeon? That was a good session and one I still recall 20+ years later. The dawn of understanding on all of our faces and the ensuing argument as we had to run from the dungeon we were exploring.

I recall a similar incident in Shadowrun where the dwarf mage my friend was playing misread the area of effect as 3 feet per level as opposed to the 3 meters per level that it was. After casting the spell the GM asked all of us to make resistance tests and all the razors in the party promptly crumbled to the asphalt. After confirming the mistake, my friend apologized profusely but we never let him live it down "Dive for cover, he's casting a spell!!!"

I believe it is these moments that are lost with an expansive rule-set. When players immerse themselves in their character sheet and not the world they are gaming in. Where actions are determined by a roll of the dice and not by actual actions. When you stop describing new ways for your fighter to swing his sword and settle for saying "I swing my sword, or I play this action".

As always, your travels may vary. Please take what you like and leave the rest for the next traveler.

Further Reading

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Can't get away from that Elf (a)

One of the problems I have faced, being a gamer, is shelf space. RPG books, Miniatures, terrain, collectible card boxes, board games, and accessories created from items that you dream up new uses for, all clutter your respectable living space. At one point I had four 3' x 6' bookshelves filled with just gaming books; the other stuff filled two closets.

The problem with this is the fact that all the items in the closet end up being stacked on top of each other and you have, at times, an 8' stack of gaming stuff and you need something from the bin at the bottom of the stack. At that point I:
"...trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself and curse my fate,"
Ironically, this happens to coincide with a recent post from a friend, called GenCon: Models, that mentions the multitude of terrain he witnessed at Gencon. In my draw down of gaming material, I given away almost all of my terrain, including a couple sets of Dwarven Forge to supplement a friends collection.

The next portion of my gaming redesign was to redo my closet to be more 'gamer' friendly. I was able to accomplish this by installing an Elfa System form the container store. I haven't done this previously because the system is not cheap. My wife was able to find a pre-used system that had enough to do four closets at about 15% of the store price. This allowed me to create a multitude of short shelves to store things like minis or games without have to stack them too high. The Elfa System also has specialized pieces like drawers you can install, but nothing specifically for gaming.

To finish, if you have a free wall and want to maximize space use, I highly recommend a shelving system that allows you to set shelves at various heights and introduce more shelves whenever you need them. If you know another shelving system, please feel free to comment.

Monday, September 5, 2011


I have set a goal to downsize my gaming collection and cataloging my books. Today I worked on cataloging my Earthdawn books. As many of you probably know, Earthdawn is my fantasy game of choice. The cataloging went relatively quick as I decided to use springpad to keep a list of my books. Springpad has an iphone app that allows me to lookup items by barcode. So basically, I just scanned in the barcode for my books and I had them in a neat little folder for me to reference in the future. There were a few issues. Springpad pulls the info from an applicable source. Usually for books it's amazon, so you have to deal with entries that may not have a picture or that springpad could not find entries for, which was the case for the classic edition books.

In the end, it made a daunting task more manageable. I plan on using springpad for note-taking on the ipad during games which may be very useful. Springpad recently enabled facebook integration so that you can see common recommendations from your friends for things like movies or books. This has got me wondering if you can incorporate it like a giant web of common RPG objects. For example, people could create a random character make it public on springpad and publish to facebook so you have a veritable rouges gallery of your friend items.

I will have to look into this more in the future. If you are interested:

Don't Be A Dick

Happy Labor Day

I've been spending a bit of time reading other blogs and gathering advice. I recently perused a couple of articles that lamented on the pitfalls of a game master (GM) pulling dick callings. Apparently a GM is a dick if you don't allow a character to pick up his dropped weapon after a fight. I then realized that: I'm a dick. Because of GMs like me, tighter rules must be implemented to the point that there is no question on what happens on the battlefield. Then you get "better" games like Dungeons & Dragons, 4th edition where a couple of "dipshits" can't argue about rules.

That's right, I caused 4th edition because I'm a dick.

So apparently, not only does the GM have spend time detailing the whole world, but he must also assume to know all the character's daily habits and their particular brand of 'common sense', because we all know their are people out there you wonder about their intelligence. I'd like to point out this is 'common sense', not 'universal sense'.

Not ironically, I was gaming a couple weeks ago and my character had to throw down his scimitars. At the end the battle, I stated my character went back and picked them up. Not that it would be detrimental to my character, he had two more swords, but I don't see why it is so hard to manage your one character. A GM is probably a dick too, if he does not allow you to pack your backpack like a Heward's Handy Haversack. Because you always pack so the item you need is at the top of the backpack to be grabbed in 3 seconds, no matter what it is because that is what the rules state.

Now I agree that there are some dick maneuvers out there: changing an opponents actions after the player states his actions, 'targeting' players continuously for no reason, having something bad happen to a player and not allowing any sort of roll. All of which have happened to me, but I didn't think the GM was being a dick, I just assumed there was some other plot device that I was not aware of.

Fudging dice rolls is another dick maneuver. Which I find hilarious because I fudge dice rolls 'ALL THE TIME'. I find this keep players alive longer and manages better continuity to the games. All of my players know I roll amazingly well as a GM (not as a player though), and many times this has resulted in a player's death because I usually roll in front of the players. I do not GM D&D, but the scene would be something to the effect of:

A kobold runs in a chucks a javelin at your character. [roll] Natural 20 [roll] A 20 again {player gasps} [roll] three 20s in a row. You guys wanted to play with the instant kill rule, sorry but the javelin hit your character right in the eye skewering his brain, and killing your 9th level fighter. Sorry man, I would fudge the dice roll, but I don't want to be a dick.

It appears that I have gone on a rant. Not my intention, but then again, I am apparently a dick. But the next time the GM does something that you do not agree with, roll with it, play it out. If your game master 'is' being a dick, it's probably because the guy is a dick, and you should be able to tell at more than just the table.

For further reading:

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Glass Sea of Trinity

There was a recent article on Gnome Stew called Quick and Dirty Location Template. The article presents a template on how to create a quick blurb on a location for you your game with relative ease. This is an excellent template that I plan on using to detail locations for may game before writing up larger articles. Below is one of the locations I created in less than five minutes.

Name: Glass Sea of Trinity

Ambiance: A harsh desert covered with jagged chunks of fused glass.

History: Rumored to be unihabitable, high radiation level cause it to be highly avoided.

Encounters: Centicores have been sighted at the edges of the Glass Sea. Cannabilistic humanoids and a strange species of Glass Sea Roaches can also be encounters.

Treasure: Very little can be found of use in the Glass Sea, the only salvagable items are irradated chunks of glass, called glow rocks, that give off light.

Hooks and Hotspots: Some scavengers want to travel to the Glass Sea to retreive glow rocks as a cheap form of light for their town. The party is hired to provide protection while they search.

Historic Note: Trinity was the location of the first nuclear testing, the rest melted the sand and create fused chunks of glass.