A Year in Gaming, 2018

Online Games Flatline

Probably the worst thing in gaming this year was trying to make the jump to the Gauntlet for online gaming since it wasn’t working at all on G+, then losing my grip and falling offline altogether in early spring. After a couple years of lots of online play, I let it go.

Before I dropped out altogether, I did get in on the last session Jeff Rients ran in the Vaults of Vyzor, which was especially awesome as he has been on my bucket list to play with since I first ran across his online work.

I thought maybe I could show enough grit to make another run at some Black Space games at least, but I didn’t get past the early planning. A big part of this is that I want my games to be “appointment television” where people will go out of their way to establish their availability and defend it. The bulk of responses to my invitations sounded to me like “I guess I could maybe come if there’s nothing good on tv; set something up and we’ll see if I show” with at least 1/3 dropout rate. At some point my dignity was tired of chasing people who were, at best, casually interested. If people are too busy to play the game, I don’t want them there.

Edge City Sputters

In 2018, Edge City got 10 sessions, dying out in spring after massive attention in 2017. Fed up with unwelcome plot directions and frustrations with players and a series of my decisions she didn’t like, my wife Kristy dropped out of the last of our Friday games she was still willing to play. This was especially poignant in July, where we broke our long-standing tradition of a Masks game in Kingsport for her birthday.

The game is still as cool as ever, drawing from a broad base of inspiration and posing unique challenges to the characters. The focus shifted away from providing support to the leader of the vigilantes in the city and fighting for its cultural preservation against evil forces trying to modernize it and also deepen the subjugation of its people. The focus focused towards backgrounding epic through-lines and conflicts and doing more short term challenges with a broader cast in the background also engaged in fighting for the greater good, still concentrating on the history and capabilities of the PCs.

I think there are a few reasons we stepped back from Edge City. I think it rattled the group that Kristy didn’t want to play with them, and her character is tied into lots of stuff and her absence is notable. Also, some previous players who like my game table but aren’t allowed into Edge City after there was some bad blood in the setting returned at a good time, as my numbers were getting dangerously low (one of Kristy’s friends also dropped out when she did, without saying a word to me; she just quit showing up). Makes sense to avoid a setting where our number drops to max 3 players. And, I love it when my players have a great time, and Edge City just seems a shortcut to player discontent for one reason or another.

Birthday Gift Games

I give out birthday games to my table; what don’t we play that you’d like to? That’s my gift. One person wanted some modern monster hunting, with the Starkweather monster hunting family for context. That went okay, and another person wanted a follow-up. That’s where I learned that where I am in my head right now, I cannot enjoy running modern games in our real-world setting; too much frustration with the state of the world right now. I don’t trust my improv, NPCs, or creative choices.

I re-familiarized myself with Warhammer enough to run something for that as a birthday game, and that went alright but didn’t rekindle any itches I wasn’t scratching in the World Between game. Another couple birthday games were in the Breathing World with Fictive Hack, and as an outgrowth of that, I did decide to go with using a Breathing World open table as the alternate game for Fridays. Same system, very different feel, the players have little adjustment needed to play both.

Another OSR Crash

I did try to do a B/X game with some mods in a distinctive setting, but again it crashed and burned and was terrible; the players got the whole cautious exploration thing for the first 2/3 of the session, then got bored or frustrated and charged some foes that outnumbered them, died, and were cranky about it.

I had prepped a setting, dungeon, and so on so I could coast for a month during a stressful time at work, with little to no prep needed between sessions. The whole prep, setting, everything got chucked and I was back to weekly improv. I don’t seem to learn the lesson that my home table rejects the OSR play style; I can already feel that in a year or two if they’re still around I’ll try again. I don’t have anyone else to play with.

I really did try to make it cool; playable grays (little aliens replace dwarves), a culture of wizard gunfighters (revolvers and lever action gun tech level), an adventuring environment based on a crashed space-faring dragon opening portals to recruit an army, and adventurers used to mount spoiling raids to keep the enemy strength from getting too consolidated before massive military resources can be brought to bear. Sparked almost no player interest. Nothing enduring, anyway.

(I planned a birthday game for myself where the group would try out Pits and Perils, but I just let that session get absorbed into adding another part on to one of the other birthday games. I can take a hint. Gotta wait a year or two before trying again.)

Arrhythmic World Between for Fictive Hack

We did a lot of World Between for Fictive Hack with their established characters. Rhythm was a terribly difficult thing to nail down; we started in Relmeenos where they had been putting down roots, then they abandoned that and traveled to the coast and got a ship and were maybe going to swashbuckle, then they decided to pursue a more quest-like course to delve into some of the setting’s secrets, and when I set up an arc for that we had attendance troubles that derailed the game until 2019.

For the last bit I set up the arc with the Responsive Role Playing method session 0, that’s what I’m doing for all my games at this point. I figured if we all agreed on what the players wanted, and compared that to what they got, then we could maybe sidestep some of this squirrel-chasing randomness that made planning difficult (not even just for me, but for other players figuring out how their character fits into the game world.) Trying it out, see if it helps.

One of the players is going to have about half-time availability, another is dealing with chronic health issues, and everybody has a busy adult life so we have to miss sometimes. We all decided if we had 2 people out we wouldn’t do the game that has all the characters traveling together. We’ll see if we can work around that and get some arcs together, or if we drop the World Between along the littered back trail.

Still, about 20 sessions this year, and that’s a lot of story.

Breathing World for Fictive Hack

So to plug some open table into the gaps in the campaign due to attendance, I started up a Breathing World game, involving the players in making the setting, doing a Responsive Role Playing session 0. We go from established characters in a human-centric world to new characters on the set of the Muppet Show with no human guest stars. Ratling, kiskov, primordial ape, and plant person, with others making characters as needed to fill in the gaps.

We had 2 sessions for a birthday game with established characters, then 3 more later on with open table, and this is a strong contender for next year’s table. Not that I can easily predict what’s going to happen.

Bright Side Note: Bryan Mullins

Bryan came to visit in the summer, and he got to try out World Between for Fictive Hack and get a brief sample session of Axes and Anvils. It was great to spend some time with an online friend in meatspace, especially since online play doesn’t seem a likely option ongoing.

Bright Side Note: Tooth & Claw

As I was waking one morning, I realized I didn’t have paper copies of the first game system I heavily invested effort into. I reached out to some friends I haven’t seen much in the last 15 years or so, and they sent me what they have to copy and return; I had a great conversation with one of them that I haven’t seen in 4 years, and an online conversation with another one I haven’t seen in even longer. That was pleasantly bittersweet. (The game itself is an artifact of overplanned simulationist wordy and kind of terrible design, so it’s not that I’m going to play it; still, I want it in the collection.)

G+ Closing

I have been grieving because G+ is closing, and that’s my online community for inspiration, collaboration, freelancing, hunting for players and games, and so on. I don’t think I can replace it. I struggle with these feelings; the loss and grief are genuine. It was going to close at the end of summer 2019, now in the spring of 2019. It could happen any time. I don’t plan to migrate, I’ll focus on my blog and Patreon and see if something pulls me in elsewhere. G+ is still there, but people are sluicing away from it, so even if they didn’t close the damage is irrevocable.

Peripheral Issues

My Patreon for serial fiction has been a steady star in the guiding constellation, and I finished a book in the spring and another over the Christmas break. One is out for purchase except for the ebook, the other is about to go through that publishing process as I start the third book in the series. This is great.

My employment has been turbulent. A period of struggle and chaos led up to my boss getting a different job in the company, and taking me with him, and then the new position was intense, and has remained so, and that affects my creative life (while also paying more, and involving more overtime, relieving some of that freelance earning pressure.)

Losing my online gaming will and ambitions was (and remains) painful, but it’s less painful than continuing to struggle and fail. Am I ready to up my commitment to a weekly open table and arm twisting to fill it? No? I needed to either escalate or scale back, because it was killing me to feel abandoned in the middle space. I made my choice.

Losing Kristy from my game table remains painful. I can’t give her a new group of players, and the way I run games isn’t what she wants, so that loss feels enduring. Breaking off 20 years of gaming together, the very activity that brought us together and kept us together, is a loss that’s hard to explain or remedy. I don’t want people to play if they’re not having a good time and I don’t know how to fix problems like not wanting to play with the other players, and apparently I”m not navigating expectations sufficiently to counter frustrations. Also, I have no clear way to get childcare for game nights. So, it’s a loss I will live with until circumstances change and she reconsiders, and that may never happen. I understand, and I accept this.

I got as far as collaborating on a Kickstarter for November 2017 for Black Space, but I got cold feet as I would be the only one managing the promotion, handling the money, working with freelancers for art and layout design, and finishing the content. I’ve been trying to handle some of that piecemeal, but the money I had to work on this sort of project has dried up as my personal credit has been burdened with paying for a surgery in 2017, covering a car issue, and the occasional thing that comes up plus trying to minimize my expense impact on the family finances. During this break I got the cards for a character generation deck, so all I need now is art and layout for the rule book and the book with prefab characters and quickstart adventures.

Combine that with the stunt Patreon did with their pricing adjustment that lost me some backers, and a downturn in my freelancing work, and I had to prioritize. Black Space and Guns of Telluria were supposed to be shoo-ins over the finish line, and I’m still occasionally going back and struggling to get things together and closer to the finish line, but I’m demoralized and tired. Everything gets slippery, and I have to retrench and make sure I hit my key commitments and go after electives as I have capacity.

I need to learn InDesign. I struggled at it for maybe total 6 or 7 hours over the Christmas break; it’s a really frustrating process to try and use Youtube to learn how to use some complicated software that makes it arcane to do stuff that’s stupid basic in Word. I don’t know what I’m going to do to with that need, but I cannot afford the cost and lengthy delays that come from hiring people to do layout. Just for a novel, designer delays cost me months, and game books have pictures and tables and such.

My four paths: get a partner who kicks ass and works with me on it. Or, lower my standards and put things out that are as good as I can make them. Or, give up and quit putting things out. Or, stick with it and persevere and rise and develop a new skill set in spite of my own deficiencies. There’s an obvious right answer, but I don’t know if I can do it.

See also: I need art. ::sigh::

In Conclusion

I believe I am good at game design. I believe I am a good game master. I stubbornly DECIDE to believe these things even in the face of evidence that I am not successful in keeping long-term players happy or attracting a new player base, and I choke at the end of making my game projects available in a broader more commercial way. I will continue DECIDING to believe in myself, evidence to the contrary, as long as I can.

Advertisements
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Mace of Geldurk

Adventure report, 12.21.18. Breathing World, Steamvale (description, updated to include Session 0 done at this session). Fictive Hack.

Mog (primordial ape) [Michael], Scant Halftail (ratling) [Simon], and Calloway (kiskov) [Shaun] return from the previous adventure.

Repo Round Two

Le Frond summoned the crew to tell them that Fan Dan, his best agent, confronted Terris Clapton, captain of the Swellcrest, which was anchored in Welcher’s Quay at the city’s flank. Something went wrong, and Fan Dan did not return with Clapton’s payment. Instead, the ship was scuttled, and both Fan Dan and the captain are missing. There are rumors something dangerous happened, and this can be traced back to Le Frond, so he sent the crew to get payment from the captain if possible, but certainly squelch any connection between the disaster at the docks and the Tuggernuts (led by Le Frond.)

They headed to the Welcher’s Quay, which was managed by the Machin criminal family of seabloods, with expertise in illusion, and assistance in keeping the quay coated in fog at all times. They asked around, talking to some fishermen mending nets, and searching the shipwreck, noting it had been blown into two chunks by some force in its center. They found evidence of the captain’s charts of travel, and feminine companionship in the cabin, as well as strange striations of great strength that sawed the ship into flinders and thirds with the middle third disintegrated.

They met with some of the Machin family, who let Scant talk to the captain while big warriors kept an eye on his primordial and kiskov partners. Captain Clapton was boozed up and freaked out from whatever tore his ship in half. (Before going off with them, Scant did look through the wall with his telescope to make sure the captain was there, and he left that treasure in the hands of his big violent friends.)

The Mace of Geldurk

The captain had retrieved a massive metal ball from an island temple and brought it back to the city at the behest of an anonymous employer, hush hush. When Fan Dan demanded payment, Clapton managed to pry a gold shaft from a socket in the front of the ball to send as payment, but that was keeping this thing restrained; it attacked, and only the captain survived to scramble away. The awakened metal ball tore the ship in half, ripped up some docks, and headed off through the fog to ascend the crystal flow.

Commodore Machin met with them outside, underscoring that everyone wants peace here, telling them the ball was referred to as the “Mace of Geldurk” named for the god of war. They retreated back to the port, and found the Warspire, where marines hang out looking for employers, and they spoke with the dracotaur high priest Bloodmoon and his prim elven assistant. Bloodmoon agreed to do a ritual on a spear that would plug the slot in the front of the Mace of Geldurk and render it inert if they could get close enough and survive.

While they waited, they left the docks to climb the crystal flow. There they found holes dug in the crystal, like the Mace of Geldurk had dug chunks out for some reason. They realized there were crystalline eggs in the flow, and the monstrous construct was maybe eating them, and setting others free on the crystal (they heard skittering.)

Returning, they picked up the spear (the ritual required blood from anyone who might wield it, and they all contributed) and returned to the crystal flow as the sun was setting, hunting the Mace and finally finding it. They confronted it, distressed as its plating opened to release vast tendrils and loops of sawtooth blades, powered by a furnace of collected souls from battlefields who died and were harvested by Geldurk, burning within that metal sphere and powering its weapons. Even the echo of the weapon attacks hurt. flailing dreadnaught.JPG

Calloway charged the Mace of Geldurk with Scant on his shoulders, and he jabbed the spear in place with the ratling’s last-minute corrective help so it rammed in place and shut the Mace down.

They heard skittering on the crystal as the moon rose and the Mace quieted, so they retreated and notified Le Frond he could send a team to pick up the artifact; he would keep it somewhere safe(ish) and at least get it out of circulation for now.

Requested proposals for this session. Explore Steamvale (done, with the Welcher’s Quay and Warspire), Meet Le Frond (done, he gave the quest and they saw his cool glass ball throne with the slab of snacks above), a supernatural mission to deal with a supernatural threat (done, with the Mace of Geldurk)

Usual Proposals. Combat (with the Mace only, good enough), Missions (yes), Tourism (yes)

3-5 Proposals. Faction Politics (yes, keeping the peace between Machins and Tuggernuts.)

Favorite Moments of the Session. Now there are things on the crystal flow, and war machines are terrifying.

Plot Threads Update

  • Baron Shallows Revenge
    • Shokoro ambush with primordial undead
  • Menace on the crystal flows
    • Mace of Geldurk restrained, but it freed skittering things
  • Who’s Who of Steamvale, Tuggernuts Edition
    • Warspire, shrine to Geldurk, Bloodmoon the dracotaur high priest, elven assistant, marines hang out there.
    • Welcher’s Quay, run by Commodore Machin and his seablood family, with fog
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Working on Fictive Hack

“If you want to make enemies, try to change something.” Woodrow Wilson

We’ve been playing a lot of Fictive Hack at my game table, both Breathing World and World Between. I think 2019 is the year to update the rules, pull a good format together, and release the books with the benefit of years and years of playtesting, with some characters clearing over 70 levels, and multiple campaigns running for years that I have not run or played in.

The last year or two I’ve made very little alteration in games we play at my Friday night table as far as rules go. I still anticipate the group will be unhappy that I’m tinkering again, but… it must be done. We’re doing fine for games that I just play at my table, I can just be alpha designer and rule on things as needed, but if the systems are to be suitable for consumption beyond my circle without significant house ruling (or just having some unpleasant pot holes and speed bumps on the road) then I need a free hand to adjust some things.

Four Paths

I now contemplate four paths. One, leave it alone. Two, do some development to repair the game for my house table as a side project for fun. Three, develop the game more seriously and make it available for sale, focusing on the World Between. Four, develop the game more seriously and make it available for sale, focusing on the Breathing World.

The advantage to focusing on the World Between is we’ve played a pile of games there and continue to play and also it’s more rearranging and updating because my setting information doesn’t need much adjustment, it’s more of a gloss through the rules and breaking the material into multiple books to answer criticisms of disorganization. Also, I already have a lot of public domain art picked out, and could find more; it’s Gothic fantasy, but human-centric based on a version of Europe, so tonally that works.

The advantage to focusing on the Breathing World is it’s my intellectual property (World Between is used with permission of Jack Shear) and it’s more high fantasy with lots of races, religions, magical traditions, and weirdness in a more high-spirited tone that hews closer to Kirin Robinson’s original default for the game.

My version has developed so far beyond the ambition of the original Old School Hack that inspired it that I do not expect Kirin Robinson would have any reservations about me continuing to develop it for specific settings and refining its function. I don’t think any of the original text from Old School Hack is in Fictive Hack, and the name has changed once and likely will again. (I’m tentatively looking at the Awesome System.)

Part of the Grieving

Not only am I going back to Fictive Hack to rework some design, but one of the reasons I’m doing this is because I’m still really struggling with grief over the slow death of G+. That platform was where I built a following, found people interested in my work, and even managed a couple years with piles of online gaming. It’s going away, and one of the many ways I’m trying to process that is refocusing some on my home game, what I play with people in meatspace.

Fictive Hack…. I was unable to figure out an online mechanism for managing the awesome point economy, where I put awesome points in the “bowl” from my infinite “stack” and players rewarded each other for being awesome, then spent those points to affect in-game outcomes. That’s one reason the game got back-burnered when I was playing a lot online. I could not easily play over the internet.

With real people, when you want to be friends, you put your best foot forward and really try to offer the finest side of yourself, and hope that you’ll get something going that will have long-term connection. When that goes on for a while and you don’t get that connection, you decide how long you’re going to chase people, and when you just let it go and stop trying to forge that connection.

G+ evaporating pains me because it feels like closing off avenue for trying again, AFTER I reached a point of no longer chasing a stable pool of online players willing to commit to game times for one-offs or finite arcs. I hoped that when people played with me online they would enjoy the experience to the point where they’d want more of it and be willing to take steps to secure it, but that simply didn’t happen.

A solid third of any game was going to be no-shows, give or take, and most responses boiled down to “I guess I’ll come if there’s nothing good on tv and no one makes me a better offer or I feel like taking a nap instead.” I had one or two players who would go out of their way to get in on a game, but they were busy people and not particularly keen on particular games. Eventually I just ran out of energy to try and spark some enthusiasm in people at the idea of playing in my games online. If the opportunity isn’t worth them exerting effort or making a commitment, then at some point my dignity asserts itself and says “I deserve better than this.”

So… I gave up on chasing players, then my main venue to find them announced it is closing. Rubs salt in the failure.

The play side of things doesn’t begin to address the collaborative projects I got involved in, or the inspiration I drew from the work of others to bolster my own efforts, or the ways I was able to inspire others. Will that revive in the blogosphere? When we move from one medium to another, do we ever move back?

The Way Forward

Contemplating starting over on a social media platform is exhausting and unpleasant. I got into G+ to talk about random tables, stocked dungeons, and OSR game theory. The OSR atmosphere is polluted, probably past recall until the next time it’s rediscovered and the current crop of people has cycled out. I liked the OSR, but I don’t think my work ever really was OSR.

I tried to be a good community member in the Gauntlet for a while, I like their style. But there’s no clear focus where my contribution is useful, and even after a lot of online play there I wasn’t getting much repeat customer activity in my games, which weren’t filling. “Participate in the community more” is hard advice to follow for me, when there’s no clear contribution for me to make. I just let go of the rope and sank. I don’t see how my odds are better in any of the other G+ diaspora social media groups.

So, my strategy is 3 fold.

Focus on Blades in the Dark; I know I have a lot to offer there, and I’m doing serial novels and possibly more game supplements. That’s a clear-cut audience and fans of my work will help notify the diaspora when new things come out.

Focus on my meatspace game table. I have repeat players, and while there’s always the danger that a couple will fall out due to life circumstances or unhappiness with the game and I’ll lose critical mass and the tradition will fold (especially now that my wife is no longer interested in playing), right now I have enough to keep it going, and that’s got to be good enough. Also, recruiting as it becomes possible. My players who have been coming for years like Fictive Hack, it’s like the 5e of the group; maybe not everyone’s favorite, but everyone likes to play it.

And, I can start using the blog for more than posting resources to refer to in my other social media conversations, like play reports or documents.

For now, that will have to do.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

Ghosts of the Dammed

Adventure report, 12.14.18. Breathing World, Steamvale, Fictive Hack.

Mog. Primordial Ape.  (Michael) Wealthy repo agent for the Tuggernuts crime syndicate in Steamvale. He is a member of the Stonedoors, a clan of primordials who have taken over the King Wetweather Dam and its area and protect their privacy. He possesses a Furby of Speech, a weird fist-sized creature that speaks for him if he wishes. Also, a Purse of Elevhia, a roomy purse where up to 6 meals a day can be extracted from it. Rummaging around for about five seconds reveals a serving, but there is also a lot of nuts, debris, and shiny objects; the purse is filled by squirrels hiding things in otherdimensional spaces in Elevhia’s shrines–things that go in a hole somewhere and end up in this bag.

Scant Halftail. Ratling. (Simon) Extremely wealthy repo agent for the Tuggernuts crime syndicate in Steamvale. He wears fancy clothes and spreads money around because he wants to be accepted as a person, not seen as vermin. He possesses a “shield ring” that provides a floating energy shield, he wears the ring on his tail. He also has a spyglass that can see through walls. He is haunted by a dark past.

Calloway. Kiskov. (Shaun) This half-bison, half-man is determined to elevate his people to equality and comfort. They are packed in a filthy ghetto, their honor preventing them from taking corrupt roads to power and wealth that other populations of former slaves managed. Calloway is one of the most famous kiskov in the region, his exploits for his people are known. He belongs to the Delemachs clan and speaks their language, Redbull.

Call for Help

Mog and Scant are partners, taking on ship captains (and others) who have big loans to the Tuggernuts crime syndicate ruled by LeFrond, an intelligent devilfish who has a massive suit of translucent armor he can insinuate his tentacles through to walk about as a massive humanoid when the mood strikes him. They weren’t working repo at this point, they were in the Horned Temple, a tavern made of a house sized conch shell sawed in half and peaked, with pillars instead of walls, and masses of spiders living in the shell above the patrons. The spidersilk made curtains used for interior and exterior walls, and the spiders were meat and milk for specialty dishes as well as bouncers, called down on unruly patrons.

They met Calloway at the Horned Temple, to see if the three of them wanted to assist the Stonedoors with a problem. The primordial tribe sent Dina, a hot apess, to tell them that the highlands above the dam were haunted. Three primordials had been drowned by mysterious ghosts, and while they were very strong, they lacked the magical resources to cope with ghosts. The heroes agreed to investigate and deal with the threat, and after a night’s rest they headed out for Stonedoors territory.

Climbing the Dam

They left Steamvale and followed the shallow riverbed to the edge of the jungle, then up to the “road” through the jungle canopy designed so primordials could easily defend the approach to their lands. They reached the tumbled rock cliffs, with the dam built in, bypassing the small lake below the dam where giant catfish lurk. (Once a year the primordials send a champion into the lake to find a giant catfish; either the catfish or the primordial perishes, and if the catfish wins the primordial is eaten. If the primordial wins, the whole clan enjoys a massive feast on the loser.)

At the top of the dam they followed the road to the primordial settlement Stonedoor (named for the cliff they defend.) They interviewed some survivors, and prepared to head out in the morning to the site of the deaths; the patrol area is big, and they considered how best to locate a threat that eluded the sharp primordials.

Scent of Blood

Marshy ground, shallow pools, and stunted trees punctuated the scratchy brush of the fallow highland flank of Stonedoors territory. Once they got into the patrol area, Scant used his keen nose to scent primordial blood; he smelled a surprising amount, considering the deaths were supposed to be by drowning.

They followed his nose until they reached an area where they were stealthy and cautious because they spotted some shokoro (lizard people) guarding the area mostly submerged in shallow sun-warmed pools. They saw a pole planted in the earth, and the site of ritual magic. Giant dragonflies were buzzing over a pool that stank of bloody death.

Battle!

Mog hurled a big rock and crushed one of the guards, and the others thrashed up out of the water, their war-harnesses bright and their blades sharp, right behind the swarm of dragonflies that tried to kill them (best part, the ratling fending them off of the kiskov). As the investigators put the first wave of shokoro down, five waterlogged primordial corpses rose from the pool by the ritual ground and attacked; they were slow and easily knocked down, but their skeletons rose out of the meat and kept fighting; when those were knocked down, only the unholy green mist-like energy that animated them remained, and it fought on.

As this fight unfolded, with Scant scrabbling around on Calloway’s torso protecting him from attacks while Mog dismembered foes with his impossibly powerful hands, the real enemy emerged. A shokoro shaman, with an entourage of shokoro draped in impeccable court dress, wearing the colors of Baron Shallows (a leader in a powerful aristocratic family in the region.) They specifically targeted Scant.

The shaman used defensive magic before unleashing a stunning blast on the investigators; the giant kiskov and primordial shrugged it off, but the ratling let out a squeak and fell over. One of the shokoro snagged the ratling and was about to gulp him down when Calloway came to his rescue and battered the lizardkin to death. Mog kept hurling rocks at the shaman, who managed to stop some with expendable bodyguards and magic before the last one pulped her.

Ghosts in Jars

When the green mist-like spirits emerged, Mog and Scant raced to the site of the ritual to see if they could be disrupted there somehow; they speculated that the primordials may have been soaking in the pool because the ritual was not finished. Calloway managed to strike one of the formless things, but as the others began draining his vitality and strength, he broke off the fight and staggered after his allies.

Meanwhile Mog and Scant saw big clay jars mostly buried in the mud around the ritual site, and they broke them open, revealing rotted organs and foul ingredients; each broken pot dispelled a green spirit. Finally, harrowed by peril, they were victorious and all the shokoro were dispatched (and one ran away.) They made sure the shaman was dead, and then returned to the primordial village.

Scant Halftail’s Treachery

On the way back, Scant confessed to his fellows that the Scansion nest of ratlings (he had once been a ringleader) pulled a con on an elderly shokoro widow aristocrat, pretending to put her in touch with deceased relatives. They took her ancestral savings and vanished, as per the plan–but her nephew was Baron Shallows himself, and he was furious. He applied his resources and executed almost all of the Scansion nest. As far as he knows, Scant is the last survivor.

He thought Steamvale was far enough away from his sordid past that he’d be safe, but if Baron Shallows put together this elaborate ruse to draw him out by threatening his friend’s people, that means the Baron knows where he is and has been spying on his activities and associates–and the Baron is feeling patient and vengeful. None of that bodes well for the future.

Ending Well

They were celebrated when they returned to Stonedoors, and now the primordials owe them one (as the heroes have little use for more wealth and much more interest in favors and future goodwill.) The investigators left the highlands and returned to the city, leaving the dead in peace.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Glass Slope Isle

The island is named for its main mountain face, which appears to be snow-capped in the tropical heat but in fact has a dazzling glacier of crystal coating one side. No one knows where it came from or how it was formed.

The free port of Steamvale is the only major city on the island. The mouth of the port features a massive statue over 100 feet tall of a woman with many arms, and each hand was sculpted to once display something, but the hands are now empty. One arm broke off and lays partly obstructing the entry to the harbor, it has been fortified and is called the Armwall.

The city is officially ruled by the Market, a confederacy of merchant houses, many of them featuring representatives of populations that were once slaves when the island was ruled by the Seabloods, a race of people whose heritage blended humans and water elementals. Seabloods are still politically important in the city, even though the Wetweather dynasty of slavers was crushed by Emberbloods, whose heritage blended humans and fire elementals. The invaders broke the city’s defenses by building a vast dam upriver, the King Wetweather dam, draining the elemental powers of the rulers by forcing them to convert seawater to drinking water for the city instead of using their powers in more military applications.

The island port is famous for its crystal crabs. Most of the crabs on the island have translucent flesh, and the most sought-after crab meat is from crabs with translucent shells as well. Crabs can range from the size of a thumbnail to the size of a horse.

Flametongue is the common language, originated by the Emberbloods who rule the entire region after conquering it centuries ago.

This setting is located in the Breathing World and was developed on 12.14.18 in collaboration with Shaun, Simon, and Michael.

Session 0 run on 12.21.18 in collaboration with Shaun, Simon, and Michael. 

Genre. Gonzo Fantasy.

What do we avoid? No epic adventure, keep it light and without ongoing commitments.

Who are the characters? Representatives of the mercantile houses (and crime syndicates) of Steamvale.

Why are they together? Famous troubleshooters and agents sent to deal with problems.

Proposals we want most sessions. Combat. Missions. Tourism (seeing cool fantasy settings and neat cultures.)

Proposals every 3-5 sessions. Faction politics.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | 2 Comments

SHIELDS UP BASIC

Looking for a new game system to introduce people to RPGs? Here you go, free of charge. Happy Thanksgiving.

SHIELDS UP BASIC.

Success on 5-6 on a 1d6. Roll 1d6 for any attempt, +1d6 if you have relevant training, +1d6 if you have the right tools.

One success means there’s a complication. Two successes is straightforward, you get what you want. Three successes or more, and you get something extra.

If luck makes the difference in a situation, the GM can roll 1d6; the higher the result, the better for the player. Ideally the GM figures what’s normal and that happens from 2-5, with 1 being very bad and 6 being very good. Nuance is possible. The GM can tell the player the stakes ahead of time to build suspense, or improvise based on how good the roll is.

If circumstances in the game’s context call for an unusual roll or suggest odd potential consequences, ideally talk about it ahead of the roll and agree on the range of outcomes. If a set of circumstances makes a difference, note that for future reference to be consistent.

OPTIONAL RULES. Consider adding some of these in as situations come up, adding complexity as it is welcomed, customizing the game to your taste.

  • BOTCH. If you get no successes and at least one “1” result, that’s a botch; something terrible happens!

 

  • VARIABLE DIFFICULTY. If the task is really difficult, you only succeed on a “6” result. If the task is relatively easy but still difficult enough to require a roll, succeed on a “4-6” result. In combat, facing multiple foes or fighting on slippery ground or other problems can make combat difficult, and striking at prone targets or using a reach weapon against daggers (or at close range, daggers against a reach weapon) might make a fight easier. Shooting while running might be difficult, firing off a burst might make hitting the target easier. Be consistent and use this customizing tool to encourage player creativity.

 

  • DAMAGE. Basic weapons do 2 damage, unarmed 1 damage. A complication may reduce the damage by 1, getting 3 or more successes may increase damage by 1 or be an automatic win. Other customization is possible; light weapons may add +1 to attack rolls as they are more likely to hit, basic weapons add +1 die because they are custom tools to hurt targets, heavy weapons may do an automatic point to the target (which may be avoided with successes or armor.) Paired weapons may grant both light and basic advantages, or make an attack easier.

 

  • ARMOR. Customize to taste. Armor can add extra hit points. Or, light armor can add +1 to all defensive rolls, making success more possible, and heavy armor ignores the first point of damage from any attack. A shield may add +1 die to defensive rolls because it is custom useful equipment for avoiding damage.

 

  • PLAYER-ONLY DICE. If you don’t want to roll dice for bad guys or circumstances: in combat, every success lets you avoid an attack OR inflict damage. (Default to all attacks hitting.)

 

  • EXPERIENCE.Every game session you play you get 1 experience in a pool. You can spend these points during a game, each one gives +1 to a roll. Or, you can spend a permanent experience point to gain a success, regardless of how many dice you roll (and this can cancel a botch.)

 

  • TRAITS. These can be assigned to characters, monsters, objects, or anything else in the game. They identify ways that character or object bends the rules. For example, you could give a dragon “Danger Breath: Affects up to 3 targets per success and inflicts a base 4 damage, targets can dodge for free and reduce damage by 2 per success.” Without that trait, the GM could just rule the area fills with fire, and everyone can dodge to take less damage (no damage on a critical). GMs may allow players to assign something their character is really good at, like “Strong: tests requiring muscle are easy, and if they are easy they succeed automatically.” Severe injuries may assign bad traits, special implants or favor of the gods may assign good traits. The GM may allow traits to be gained at a cost of 3 (or more, or less) permanent experience points.

 

  • MAGIC. There are many ways to design magic to satisfy a variety of genres, from automatic spells that take up slots and refresh with rest to learned magic that drains vitality to use and triggers complications when you roll doubles to a generally useful and improvisational power with success based on how well you roll to achieve your supernatural aim. Feel free to craft something that works for the style you’re aiming for.

 

  • COOPERATION. If one character gives up their actions for the round, they can contribute 1d to another character. Up to 2 characters can support a third. If their help may not be useful (they lack expertise, there’s limited room, only one attempt is possible, etc.) those trying to help may have to get a success to grant +1d to another. Reversed, if one character tries to hinder another, they can remove 1d from another’s roll attempt, or roll to succeed to be able to remove 1d from another’s attempt.
Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Challengist

Words matter, and I may have come up with a term I could put into my game books.

DM, GM, Storyteller, then all the more fru-fru titles. None of them seem to fit what a person in that role does, especially for more collaborative games. I have finally thought of one that, for me, cuts to the center of the role.

Challengist.

The GM prepares the challenges, adjudicates challenges the players set for their characters, and bears the responsibility for making the challenges as interesting and fairly handled as possible. Also, handles the world building, NPCs, and player dynamics as the person in the hot seat for coordinating everything.

Challengist. What do you do? You prepare interesting challenges and manage those that emerge during play as the expert, representing the world and coordinating interaction between players and the fiction. You present, curate, adjudicate, and interpret the challenges. That’s your biggest job.

Clarifying that role makes a difference in preparation and in how the role is seen by everyone as play unfolds. It’s been growing on me this week. I like it more as I think about it.

If I’m going to pick a term of art for the GM in my games, I want to pick one that has the potential to shape potential and play not just in a precious setting-related way, but in a way that defines the role with perhaps a new focus.

I like it.

Wherever they go, the story unfolds, but the story is really a line of challenges that resolve in the moment and over time. The heart of a story is conflict, and the heart of managing conflict in RPGs is managing the distance between what the players want and the other side of what stands in the way (both for players and their characters.)

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment