Posted in Musings

Reading List: Short RPGs

A little while back I made a list for myself that others may find slightly useful. Here are some RPGs that I own and haven’t read yet. They’re what I consider to be pretty short. I’d rather play or run a game I know that read a 400-page rulebook of some game I don’t know. But for 20 -100ish pages that’s quick and another system under my belt.

I’ve read parts of all of these but I don’t know the systems well enough. I need to read them cover to cover again. Here are the short games I want to read the whole way through sooner than later.

Crossed out ones are ones I’ve read since writing the list. Page count is approximate.

Feel free to add cool short games you recommend in the comments.

20 pages
Lady Blackbird
Archipelago II
Wilderness of Mirrors

40 pages
Breaking the Ice
Shooting the Moon
Warrior, Rogue & Mage
In A Wicked Age

60 pages
Montsegur 1244
Remember Tomorrow

80 pages
A Dirty World
Hell for Leather
Microscope
Solar System

100 pages
Storming the Wizard’s Tower

130 pages
ICONS

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Posted in Musings

Things Role Playing Bloggers Tend Not To Write About

Noisms of Monsters and Manuals posted some interesting roleplaying related questions that are relevant to our hobby but that role playing bloggers tend not to write about. Check out his post for the original questions, plus lots of responses in the comments (some people did it right there, some people linked to blog posts, like this). Following are my answers to these questions, as the GM of my group that include my wife and three long term friends.

EDIT: After writing this post stream-of-conciousness-style I realise that my Nanowrimo brain is still on. Sorry for the word count.

Book Binding

When my copy of Savage Worlds fell apart as soon as I opened it, I got it ring bound to make it usable. I found that it became even more usable than my other books. I love ring binding (especially on small books like Savage Worlds) because you can flip it open to a page and leave it there. You can also make the book take up less room on the game table, because you don’t need to have it open at a two page spread all the time. I tend to use PDFs a lot these days though, so that avoids the whole pages falling apart issue.

“Doing a voice”. How many people “do voices”? Should they? How do you get better at “doing a voice” if that’s your thing?

I sometimes do voices, and some of my players occasionally have. Mostly it’s not accents though, it’s more like a deeper gruffer voice for a stereotypical barkeep, a quieter awed voice for children amazed by the adventurers, that sort of thing.

This week I did the voice of an elderly angel woman in our game where angels live among humans. She has seen a lot, even for an angel, and so she’s a little nuts. Her voice ranged a lot and was totally Yoda at some point, but it was more about how she talked, the words and grammar and so on, than the exact voice always matching.

I think voices can be fun, especially for NPCs that are supposed to be memorable but you aren’t going to need to speak as all the time. It’s hard to keep it up though, especially difficult to come back to that voice after long breaks between sessions. I try to keep track of it by making a few mental or written notes about the voice:

Drawlin’ voice, drops a letter or two at the endin’ o’ some words, adds unnecessary cowboy-like words in between but otherwise chooses words real careful in heated situations and is mighty respectful to folk, even bandits.

That’s my cowboy-inspired sheriff in the fantasy game I’m running for my wife. I’ve never written it down, but mentally I do what I just did there: try to remember the voice prompts in the voice, as if the character’s telling it to me. Still pretty stereotypical, but I drop in and out of it if I don’t remember those things.

Anyway, mostly the ‘voices’ I do are more the words, grammar and pronunciation than an accent or anything like that. I do use stereotypical accents sometimes, like with the old angel lady, but the other things are more important, I think.

Breaks. How often do youhave breaks within sessions?

Within sessions, hardly at all. At the moment we’re starting around 7 or 7:30 and ending around 10:30. So we don’t have much time. We muck around at the start and people throw pop culture references and quotes back and forth during the game. It takes us out of the fiction and really slows the game down, which can be annoying. I think we do that, though, because we don’t have much time together so this is our social time too. We’re playing this Saturday and we’ll have plenty of time so we’ve put forward the idea of getting that chatter out of the way first, then playing solidly for a few hours, then having a break where appropriate in the story and getting social again.

Normally in our games, because of the short time frame, people get up for bathroom breaks and drinks and stuff whenever. We keep going if we can and just fill them in briefly when they get back a few minutes later. Works for us.

Oh, also, in our longer campaigns where characters may have secrets and so on, we don’t have breaks really, but often someone will want to talk to me in private in the other room so we go do that and everyone else does whatever they want in the meantime, which is sort of a break for them too.

Description. Exactly how florid are your descriptions?

Not very.

I was tempted to leave this one there, but I won’t. I describe things more like “It’s sort of purple, like that table cloth, but all meaty” rather than “The creature’s skin was a brooding purple bruise”.

I do try to use cool words (like brooding) when I think of them, but only if it makes sense. Mostly I just say it like it is, and try to relate it to the character asking. If it’s a happy-go-lucky character who’s all bubbly I’ll sometimes try to say that “it this really nice bright sunny yellow colour” in a happy voice. If it’s a dour character who is known as a sad sack I’ll say something like “It’s bright yellow like the damn sun or that stupid parrot that won’t shut up” if I know those other things have been annoying him.

I try to give a few roleplaying cues or ideas with descriptions. If a character has a medical background I’ll try to describe things in those terms, if they are a no-nonsense down-to-earth fighter I’ll be blunt about how things look. I realise as I type that I don’t do this stuff I’m saying as much as I’d like. I want to focus more on description. I’ve got an index card that has ‘sound’, ‘smell’ ‘sixth sense’ and so on written on it to prompt me. Sound and smell are things I need to describe more.

I think describing these things, even mentioning texture, scent, etc. at all goes a long way, even without florid descriptions.

Where do you strike the balance between “doing what your character would do” and “acting like a dickhead”?

This rarely comes up. If it does I ask the player if they are “sure you want to smash the only wagon you have, leaving you and your party stranded in the wilderness”. Just putting it back to them with the consequences attached, so they are sure of what could happen if they do that. It often prompts the other players to step in and try to help think of an alternative to the character’s action, too. I also try to get the players to come up with reasons the characters are together, so that if the lone wolf or sullen type characters want to leave or be jerks about something, a character they have ties to can often stop them, even just by me reminding them of these ties.

PC-on-PC violence. Do your players tend to avoid it, or do you ban it? Or does anything go?

I personally think we haven’t had enough of this in our games. I’d love to see some more in a game where we’ve told each other up front that it is likely to happen. We all love our characters so we don’t like risking their lives against each other. The ties mentioned above also often lead to a situation where PC-on-PC violence just isn’t likely to ever happen. When we play Apocalypse World I’m pretty sure (and hoping) some of this violence will arise. I think this can lead to good roleplaying opportunities, and PC-on-PC arguments almost always do.

How do you explain what a role playing game is to a stranger who is also a non-player?

I don’t do this often. One of our players still always calls our roleplaying “D&D”, no matter the game, setting or system. If it comes up I usually either ask strangers if they know of Dungeons & Dragons and start saying how it’s like that but different, OR what I’ve done more recently is describe the setting of our game to hook them in, then they ask how it works, and I tell them a few simple rules about whatever the system is. Describing our Primetime Adventures game to a non-roleplaying friend, I went into the setting we’d made, then told him about how it was like a TV show and there were acts and scenes etc.

Alchohol at the table?

I’m not a big drinker at all and this has never come up. I wouldn’t mind people having a drink or two, I don’t think, especially in longer sessions. It could loosen people up a bit and get the ones who don’t talk as much talking. Maybe we’ll try it this weekend.

What’s acceptable to do to a PC whose player is absent from the session? Is whatever happens their fault for not being there, or are there some limits?

We often skip or delay the session or sometimes we play Munchkin or a one shot like Fiasco instead. If they aren’t here for a long time we try to write them out of the story for a bit (one player was away for a month so we played flashbacks). If they are away and we play anyway that day they – hey! super rhyme combo! – just fade into the background and are assumed to do well enough at any required checks. I try to keep them out of danger and situations where I don’t know how the player would react.

Posted in Musings

X-Mage: Magic as Mutation

In some settings magic is treated as an inherited or natural ability. What if we took this idea further and called ‘magical ability’ a mutation? In X-Men: First Class, Xavier talks about Neanderthals who saw Homosapiens as mutants but were wiped out by these more evolved kin. Accurate or not, this idea intrigued me. Much like the mutants in X-Men, spellcasters and mages are often feared for their power and because they are ‘other’. Let’s look at a fantasy world where mages are not just the ‘other’ but are the next step in human evolution.

In this world magic is a mutation and it carries with it a heavy stigma. Mages usually develop their abilities, often a single supernatural trait or a related set of powers, at a young age. Unless brought up with other mages – which is uncommon, as the inheritance of these powers is not predictable – a developing mage has nothing to work with, no indication that anyone else in the world is like them.

Parents often disown children showing the mutation and sometimes young mages accidentally kill their parents while trying to come to grips with their powers. Even those with non-destructive powers often unnerve their family, friends and neighbours enough that they can never stay in the same place for long.

Mages often use their powers to make a hard living, stealing and intimidating others, leading low lives scraping to survive. In this world there are no established magic academies, magical tomes or magical weapons. There are mythic stories, but there is no true heritage or history of magic.

“Normal” humans don’t understand these powers or their wielders. Regular folk usually react with fear, anger or both when confronted with a mage’s power. Mages are ostracised and most feel very much alone. Governments and high-level organisations see mages as living weapons and incredible threats… or tools. Mages are hunted and killed, all discreetly, while useful mages that appear controllable are used to fight wars and capture and kill their own: one of the only times mages realise there are others like themselves out there.

Mages sometimes become aware of the existence of others of their kind. In some instances this leads to rivalries: short and violent or long and smouldering. In some rare cases the mages band together and rise up against the humans that fear them and have made them outcasts.

One way to begin a campaign in this world is to start on the precipice of the rise of mages. Some intelligent, charismatic individual has discovered other mages and has seen the injustice that their superior kind is relegated to a hunted second class forced into hiding. This leader speaks of an uprising, speaks of mages not as abominations but as the next step in human evolution. What happens when humans realise that evolution is leaving them behind?

Another idea, that could go hand-in-hand with the above, is the first Mage Academy. Operating in secret this school is intended to bring mages together and help them harness their power to be used for good, with the ultimate goal of coexistence with regular humans.

Can these mages struggle against the oppressive, fearful governments and people who mark them as demons. Can these heroes painted as villains save those who would see them wiped off the face of the world? Can they change the hearts and minds of humanity? And can they do it while the other faction of mages who speak of progress and evolution tarnishes their good works with their acts of terrorism and leads some of their most powerful members astray?

Can homo arcanum and homo sapiens co-exist? Or is one destined to disappear forever?

Posted in Musings

Why Are There So Many Dungeons?

I’m very new to Reddit and I’ve found the /rpg community really friendly, open and informative so far. One of the more interesting reddits I’ve been reading asked the question “Why are there so many Dungeons?”. Lots of great answers were provided and the reddit is well worth a read. I have another motive for this posting though: my comment thread about the ancient evil masterminds who built all my world’s dungeons to take refuge in before detonating an alchemical nuke to destroy the world.

There’s a lot more to it than that, but that’s the gist of it. Read on for the re-posting of my reddit comment, but check out the thread for responses from others and our discussion on my ideas.

One idea I came up with for my world was that in ancient times, technology and magic did reach far beyond the normal level in fantasy worlds. However, with such incredible power, several civilisations were driven to conquer the world. One civilisation, with advanced magic-technology saw the massive conflict coming and decided to launch a pre-emptive strike.

Basically, they set off a massive alchemical nuke to take out all their enemies at once. However, it would kill them in the blast too, so they built hundreds of underground vaults throughout the world – and using their superior technology, this was a lot easier than it would be in standard fantasy. When building these, they realised they could use them for several purposes. After the vaults were built, they retreated into them and fell into a stasis/slumber.

After they were all in stasis, the alchemical bomb went off and destroyed 90% or more of the world’s population. So, their plan didn’t quite work: it was meant to kill everyone. Through mutation, it created many of the monsters in the world today, created a large uninhabitable area around the blast, and their vaults did suffer some damage, causing them to not wake in time. Instead, thousands of years passed and the few surface survivors rebuilt civilisation and the world healed itself.

When they woke up and left their vaults, the world had progressed much further than they planned. Now, their vaults are open. Think of them as a cross between classic dungeons, Egyptian pyramids and the vaults in Fallout 3. Some are just a series of rooms, some are massive caverns, some were built to be lived in – so have eating and sleeping areas, etc. – some were made as a “palace” for just one individual and all his possessions and slaves, and some have their own ecosystems and were used for various experiments or to put plants, creatures and monsters in stasis – like a Noah’s ark of sorts. Some even cracked open much earlier and underground creatures found these new homes and adapted them to suit their needs.

Using this method, it explains the various vaults/dungeons, why they aren’t all the same – many were built for purposes other than just stasis – and you can have huge caverns and twisting labyrinths (maybe used as a giant rat maze experiment, with sentient humanoids as the rats) or just small living quarters or fortified dungeons. Due to the people who made them having advanced technology, it would also explain the traps and artefacts that are often found in dungeons. Even dungeons without such artefacts make sense, in that they’ve been open for a while and have been raided – giving a reason why tribes of savages might have a powerful magic device.

It also gives you an ancient mastermind race to play with who used to almost rule the world and have now awakened into a new world that is not their own. If you don’t like that concept, then you could say that the vaults were all damaged and none of that race survived – except as wandering skeletons, zombies and the occasional lich.

So, that’s the reason for most of the dungeons in the world of Gahn. By the way, the mastermind race is called the Zarkrov. I’ve even talked to Nicolas Logue about them – let me tell you, he was pumped! – and he helped me brainstorm the beginnings of an excellent villain. Can you tell I’m fond of this race? I don’t think this is the last you’ll hear of the Zarkrov.

Posted in Musings

Australia in RPGs

Happy Australia Day!

Australia is basically a fantasy roleplaying setting come to life. We have devastating floods, fires, droughts and incredible dust storms. We have fantastical animals, many of which are deadly and/or poisonous. Platypus, I’m looking at you. We have deserts, rainforests, snowy mountains and coral reefs. Australia is beautiful, deadly and a great source of inspiration for gamemasters. So, to celebrate Australia Day I’ve collected Australia-related roleplaying links and inspirational links from around the webosphere for your perusal.

I’ve already mentioned the fearsome platypus, but Australian myth and folklore offers up some interesting monsters too like the are-they-silly-or-scary drop bears – giant koalas that drop out of trees and crush you, then rip your face off – and of course, everyone’s favourite vorpal billabong lurker, the bunyip from Aboriginal mythology.Sometimes fact is stranger than fiction. Just take a look at Australian megafauna for real life examples of dire animals.
For a more current example, the Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD) affecting Tasmanian Devils just screams “adventure hook”. Tasmanian Devils are crazy little creatures to begin with. Their jaws give them the most powerful bite force of any mammal (relative to body size), they let off a foul odour when stressed, they’re ferocious when feeding, and their disturbing ear-piercing screech sounds as scary as any monster. Add to all this the DFTD and you’ve got a group of ravenous screeching monsters covered in sores and wounds.

In your fantasy game, perhaps the disease drives them even more insane so that they give up their scavenging ways and attack travellers on the roads. Villagers cower in their shacks as they hear the unearthly screams of the diseased devils stalking the outskirts of the town. I’ve actually developed a race of monstrous humanoids called the Retch (singular and plural) which are based on Tasmanian Devils. I’ll update them to Pathfinder RPG stats some time and post them here with crunch, fluff and adventure hooks.

Paizo’s third annual RPG Superstar competition has begun and two Australians have made it into the Top 32 contenders. So, 6% of the finalists are Australian, whereas only 0.3% of the world is Australian. Therefore, we must be awesome 🙂 Best of luck to my fellow Aussies. For those in the Canberra region, be sure to check out CanCon next year (you’ve just missed it this time around) or even Gen Con Oz in Brisbane. I went to the first Gen Con Oz in 2008 and was at the session where an Aussie came up with what Tracey Hickman now calls “The Australian Rule” on page 69 of his X-treme Dungeon Mastery book (while I don’t agree with all of the book’s content, there are some gems in there and it’s a fun read).

Fantasy and science-fiction roleplaying games are often showcases of outlandish environments. Australia is just as amazing with the Devil’s MarblesWave RockUluruthe Pinnaclesthe Twelve ApostlesJenolan Cavesthe Great Barrier Reef and countless other breathtaking environments.

I’m not sure how popular the 1987 Call of Cthulhu supplement Terror Australis is, but I’ve purchased the PDF and flicked through it. It includes three adventures, several monsters and an interesting mix of historical data and Lovecraftian mythos. Australian roleplaying games are few and far between, so if you’re interested in the concept, this is a good place to start. Besides, Australia and Cthulhu are each crazy and deadly enough that combining them is just awesomeness waiting to happen.

Before I wrap up, I just want to take a moment to recognise that for some, Australia Day is a time for celebrating everything that makes this country great. But for others, it represents the day that the English invaded this country and declared it Terra nullius, displacing the Aboriginal people who had called this land home for over 40,000 years. If you want to find out more about this, start with the Australia Day article on Wikipedia or search Google for “Invasion Day”.

That’s it for this post. I hope it’s been enlightening. Next time you’re looking for a bizarre plant, animal or environment, look to Australia to see if it can fill your needs. If you’re running a game about natural disasters, read up about Australia to see how people have coped in these terrible situations. And if your GM runs a game set in Australia, be sure to keep your eyes on the trees. You never know when the drop bears will strike!