Saturday, November 23, 2013

Actually at the Convention

Played Cthulhu.

Climbed a tree...

Character dead.

Almost. But he broke a leg early in the game because I wanted to find something out. It sucked. If I ever saw a railroad, this was one. No flexibility, there was just the one way. And we all died anyway.

I'm next (in two hours). D&D Dungeon Crawl. Didn't have the time to finish what I intended to do and I decided to with an adventure by Jeff Rients, no less (link will follow). Don't know how this will go down.

But I have another idea. If anyone has the time and wants to contribute a riddle or a trap or an encounter in a dungeon (characters level 1 to 4), I'll use it live in the game and post how it went, too (after the game, anything else would be annoying at the table, I guess...). So feel free and shoot me a comment.

[Now I really hope someone will do this. Anything else would be kind of sad...]

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Con Diary - Day 8

Often enough a plan is a list of things that won't happen. I'm still preparing for that con game, but right now I'm not so sure how much stuff I will be able to present (that is, how much content and depth I have to "fake" during the game itself...).

While I tried to build a random dungeon generator (so far it failed due to lack of variance), it occured to me how important "story" really is. I already stated in the past that even while play in what is called a sandbox, we still communicate, still tell a story. And the amount of background story a DM has prepared, will be of tremendous help to improvise the rest.

So much for a background. But this, as a technique, does also work the other way around, I guess.

Imagine a totally fleshed out city setting and a totally fleshed out story about corruption and political intrigue in a city.

In the city setting the characters are free to do whatever they want. But make no mistake, the story that will be evolving from it, will be improvised (which means , made up). It doesn't magically arise from some random tables, no matter how good the tables.

Same goes for the story of corruption and intrigue, but with changed parameters. The players are free to do whatever they want within the story, but their surroundings will be improvised at some point (like when the characters need to go to a location the DM didn't anticipate).

This isn't  a matter of taste either. Knowing the story beforehand helps improvising meaningful decisions during the game (mood, pacing, tension, etc.).

Having the setting all made up helps improvising how the environment is reacting to the players.

The question isn't why we can't have both, it's who told us those approaches need to be separated. In my opinion a DM has 3 duties: building a world, providing stories and improvising the rest from player input. Sometimes I start thinking player agency is a myth to justify one mode of working on the game...

Anyhow, for now I've decided to go story first for the con game. More thoughts will follow as  I have them.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Con Diary - Day 3

Small steps. Yesterday we established the set up. The characters are thrown in the middle the of ze aktion and have to survive by using only their wits. At least at first. There will be plenty opportunities to get better or worse. Until then I need a check list of all the things needed for this gig.

I'm well covered regarding aimed hits and bashing or protecting skulls. 

The Zombies will be easy, too.

I think I have a pretty solid idea about random dungeon generation. I'll have something written by tomorrow (couldn't do that on my mobile...).

I'm not that happy with initiative. Neither the way we use it nor as written. Initiative is boring and... I wouldn't say "unrealistic", but no one could deny the fact that most initiative systems are somewhat, well, static. I'd really like something a bit more dynamic. The best initiative system I've encountered so far was for a superheroes game (new Marvel?). The idea is to let the acting player decide who's next. The DM decides when it's time for the enemy to choose the next in line. Simple, yet engaging and even tactical. But it doesn't go well with hordes of zombies, I guess.

Also need to think about movement, something I did avoid so far. As far as I'm concerned are all moving rules obsolete as soon as you stop using miniatures (same goes for initiative, by the way...). But in this scenario, movement will be crucial, so I have to decide what to with it.

A lot to chew on. But enough for today. Tomorrow I'll present an analogue dungeon construction tool. Until then, have a nice, y'all...

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Con Diary - Day 2 (initial ideas)

Im 12 days I've a table at a convention in the middle of the night and I need to come up with an adventure. The system, no surprises here, will be my hack of D&D. A mix of HackMaster and Rules Cyclopedia with house rules. Some of them from the community, some of them by yours truly. So I get to try them on an unsuspecting audience. I want it fast and simple. Not only because we play so late at night, but also because it's a convention and the players will need to know fast what's what.

Incidently it will mean some new and customized character sheets and a DIY DM screen. At least the screen is on my to do list for some time now, so it would be good to get this done. Got some ideas already how to do it, too and will post the results, of course, as soon as it's done.

Now for the adventure. Needs to be fast, challenging and, let's say, primal. Not much story, but not just a simple dungeon crawl either. I know there is a shitload of excellent and free adventures out there, but doing it myself should be easier than preparing an unfamiliar one. And it's something to share with the community, when it's done. So that's what I'll do.

Contentwise I'm thinking "Zombies" right now. Lots of Zombies, actually. Going "The Walking Dead" all the way. Maybe make a contest out of it, who'll survive the longest and giving those that died early a chance to participate as the living dead. So it will be deadly. I think that goes well with the late hours. Right now I'm tending towards giving everyone a level 3 character, with an option to have a second one after the first death, but level 2 and a third one with level 1 before it's all over. Maybe with an option tovstay dead earlier and have a more powerfull, maybe even concious (?) Zombie to use against the players. If possible, I'll make a mini game out of it to keep those playing the Undead engaged. And people will get points for surviving, but also for playing dead. Tournament style.

Those Zombies will infect people pretty fast (should be a save or die situation, I suppose) and only hitting them on the head should kill them.

Now I need to think a bit more about location and reasons for the group to stay together. All that points towardsva game in a dungeon. We'll see. More on that tomorrow...

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Con Diary - Day 1 (Test)

I'm trying something new and write a few posts on my mobile the next few days. Main reason is, I'm a lot on the road and I miss posting. Now I've found a good reason to do so, too: I'm preparing for convention. Sorry in advance for the lack of editing...

So here it is. It's been at least 10 years, but I've decided to go to a role playing convention again. And I'm scheduled to run a game, too. In theory this is no big thing, DMing strangers and all, but still, I'm somewhat shy about it. And I hestitated to do it almost too long. Couldn't get a table at a convenient and decided to take one at 1 o'clock in the morning. It sucks. Big time. Wanted to playtest an adventure I'm working on (Tales of Karek Thel 1, for those following the blog, it's not forgotten...). No dice. Don't think I'll get the crowd needed for it. And I'm the only one offering something remotely close to the OSR (there's one guy offering a game of AD&D and a bit Pathfinder support, but it's a rather big con). So there is that. Maybe I should get a t-shirt with a big OSR logo...

All in all it means I have to come up with something in the next 12 days. And it needs to be suited for exhausted strangers in the middle of the night. While working full time, no less. But I'm up for the challenge.

More thoughts, some impressions and first ideas will follow tomorrow.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Instant Hierarchies

Sorry for the lack of posting. I'll spare you the boring details how busy I'm right now. But I wanted to share this idea. At least the outlines. There's more to it and I believe it deserves further exploration. But that's not for today. Here's the idea so far.

Roll 3d6, create a hierarchy

Still got the cleric on my mind and I realized a few days ago that a churches hierarchy or the number of active servants of a faith is something that could be very useful for a DM (and the player of the cleric). An easy way to achieve this would be to roll 3d6 and interpret the results.
  • The plain numbers would be the whole clergy of a church. I'm assuming very small groups, obviously, with the level 1 player being the lowest in the food chain. I'd say a die means one temple. More dice in the beginning would result in a bigger church. But they would be all in one region.
  • Every 6 gets rerolled and indicates the number of those travelling holy men that spread the word without having a temple of their own (other than the player).
  • Pairs allow for another roll of 3d6, the church just got a bit bigger and expanded another region.
  • Triples not only expand the church, but give it some holy (or otherwise important) site (could be a university, a site where a saint is buried, stuff like that).
  • If the first roll with 3d6 shows three time 1, the player character (or NPC) is the only cleric with access to a lost faith. Maybe he found a holy text, something like that. It's on him to spread the word now.
  • Other than that, ones indicate lost lore and legends directly connected to that particular faith/deity/whatever, another roll with 1d6 per rolled 1 determining the number rumors, legends, MIA clerics, etc.. Could be the story of a cleric that got lost on a mission, some legend of saints and where their bones might be found, stuff like that. A pair of ones doesn't result in another roll of 3d6.
  • I'm imagining a simple pyramid as far as hierarchy goes, so there is always something like the head of the church (the one with the highest level) and those below. Should make a table for that (in another post...). The higher the number rolled, the higher the levels of those in charge. For now I'd go with something like this:
3 - Only legends and the one guy spreading the word.
4 - Old wise men (level 6) with a lot of stories to tell (and the one green guy that listened and goes on a mission from god, i. e. the player's cleric).
5 - 1 Leader (level 6) and 2 disciples with moderate support of their deity (level 4) .
6-10 1 leader (level 9) 2 clerics with level6 and as many level 4 disciples as dice are rolled.

Doubles and triples will result in higher numbers and other than rerolled sixes, every rolled number relates to the first three (example: a first roll of 3 3 5 and a second roll of 2 1 5 results in two pairs (3 3 and 5 5) and will expand the church further in the second roll, may even produce triples along the way... or quadruples, but I've no ideas for that right now).

I should go on, but I guess that explains the idea. I will write more about it as soon as I have the time. Ideas and comments are always welcome, of course. As it is, this could easily be used to create a thieves guild or any other group that needs a hierarchy. For now I'll go for churches... 

Friday, November 1, 2013

Pimping The Cleric - Intermission (Holy Places and a Clerics Motivation)

When writing about the cleric I realized I feel myself being more defensive about my ideas as usual. Everything religious, I've come to believe, is veiled with the threat of opinion above argument. So when I started writing about holy places, it became more of an intermission to explain the structure I try to implement within the game mechanics (because I see it missing and think it could be of use). Terminology and precise arguments seem to get very important at this point. Inadvertently it leads to a very close look of what the cleric means in the game and what he could mean. I'll try.

Ideas so far

I've written about the cleric two times already (Part 1Part 2) and talked about using the Petty Gods as the Pantheon here. For the holy sites it needs two more ideas. It will be a mix of what I wrote in Settlements as Class with some aspects of Territory in them. The result should be a holy site which, depending on size and importance, will have an influence on it's surroundings. Level will be the core element here. But that will be topics for future posts and just showing some possibilities and directions.

This intermission, on the other hand, is more about what I see lacking in D&D as I know it and how I think it could be improved.

Holy or Unholy places

This is not about unholy places. As a matter of fact, the question needs to be asked if something like an unholy place is a possibility in a D&D game. Even the temples of evil priests are holy to them at least. But "evil" and "unholy" are merely expressions of people opposing foreign ideas, at least as soon as it is about religion.

That it is not to say, that cults as some of those associated with Satanism (to give but one example) aren't something real and amoral, often associated with heinous crimes. It is very real (if very rare in it's extremest forms). But within a game and the three-folded alignment structure law/neutral/chaos, evil acts are not something preordained by the system.

So if holy sites are solely connected to what the system defines as clerics, the nature of the rituals and beliefs of all those fictional entities referred to as immortals, gods or deities (even demons or devils), stays within the frame associated with the 3 alignments. Following this logic, something like an "unholy shrine" isn't part of the system, but a descriptive term, only expressing prejudices between faiths.

Terminology and Meaning

As far as places of worship are part of the system I'll be proposing here in the future, they are all considered as "holy". That doesn't mean they are all holy as the general definition of the term suggests. No, the characters will most likely encounter as much sinister shrines and temples with dark rituals, as they will lawful ones. But those worshiping and using those places will consider them as holy, even if they worship an evil immortal like, say, Orcus.

The benefits of this approach are self-evident. If those places are considered to be the same and hold power, destroying them will result in more damage than just the structural variety, regardless of alignment or idol. But there is more, places of worship are a beacon of the faith they endorse, a symbol of the power any entity might muster on earth. More places of worship means more power, more power means suppressing other belief systems, which, naturally, leads to conflict. Conflict, in a rpg-context, is good.

Make pioneers out of them clerics

A player in the role of a cleric should, in my opinion, have the means to use his faith within the game mechanics to some effect. And I don't mean spells. They should be the reward for it. How rituals could be a part of that was already discussed in Part 1. It is somewhat connected, but what I'm aiming for here is a system that encourages clerics to be on the road and preach or claim some land for their god. He needs to do this or he will loose his powers (or at least gets them restricted...).

It's an idea that's not to foreign to D&D, as several adventures and setting descriptions hold the notion that a clerics connection to his god can be interfered with. Mostly this means some very evil places, directly under the influence of some god or another. But what if it is wilderness itself or just that other cult down the street that threatens a clerics connection to his god? What if reclaiming a dungeon would mean to establish a shrine in it and destroy the other shrines in it?

If we now assume a plethora of different deities, as they were (and will be!) presented in the Petty Gods supplements (to give but one example...), we could go as far as saying that every cleric is an important figure within the hierarchy of his faith. It's just more personal. I'd go as far as allowing the players to come up with their own local deity. Now the character is in a very different position. He is one of the few to preach about his god, one of the few that travel the wilderness in search of riches and relics*.

It could make a holy symbol very important, like it's an individual focus of power, just for this cleric. He looses it and his connection to his god will be so much more fragile**.

All of a sudden a cleric has all kinds of motivations to leave a mark on the landscape, hunt for gold, convert folks or search for relics that could help strengthening his faith. It's a clerics trade, it's where he strives. All his investments would be in his faith. But not just the empty pit that is called church. No. There is a career in order, where every money spent will finance the own temple for the mid-level game. If a player wanted to build a shrine, the DM should have rules how such a shrine could become a temple with time and the player should have a chance to make that happen.

Of course, a good DM could just wing it and improvise all those things as options for the player. But that's not what this should be about. Making this part of the system gives the player a chance to develop ideas beyond what a DM could give as options. It's not a place where a DM could shine with his creativity, but a place where the player decides the fate of his character. In this regard, the system may be considered as neutral territory, or better yet, as a basis where interpretation and individual choice is so much more important than a funny d10 table of strange believes the DM could come up with (which has it's place, of course, as part of the setting).

Giving the DM tools for destruction and creation

Preparation and improvisation are the basic trades for every DM. The system he chose could be considered the textbook that shapes his game. There are, again, two different kinds of usage for a system. One is what exactly to use as rules (AC descending or ascending, three saves or 5 or 1, you know the drill), the other is creations stemming from those rules (setting, adventures, campaign, characters, monsters etc.).

These distinctions are important when one is to understand and interpret the underpinnings of any system and it's usage. What is lacking in the "textbook", needs to be improvised and the difference between selecting rules and creating from those rules gets imprecise. This is to be expected in the process of shaping a game to the individual needs of a DM and his group. It is problematic as soon as the gap is to big, because most improvisations won't produce results that are repeatable without a lot of work.

Anything related to "faith" in D&D (including the cleric) has such gaps in the game mechanics. It's just not part of the system, not in a satisfying way anyway. A DM is expected to produce a pantheon, different churches, power structures and factions, acolytes and clerics as part of a setting. Or at least buy the book where it's already done by adding little subsystems, monster book entries, some random tables and flavor text like what underwear a cleric prefers. It's not helping. It's the reason for so many unhappy people as soon as the cleric enters the discussion (and so many claims to just dismiss the class entirely).

But if recognized and not just hand-waved, it should be a chance to improve the system and make changes where they count.

Holy places are one area where I see possibilities to improve the game in a way that enables a DM to prepare them in a meaningful way (with powers, size, influence and acolytes) and without to much work and also, on the other hand, improvise and convert them (if found in an adventure) with ease and as needed in the game. If there are rules how power structures influence each other, it's far more easy to improvise a cult and see it's impact on the surroundings in abstract terms. It being part of the game mechanics will also make it repeatable.

There you go

Not sure how much I was repeating ideas from earlier posts here, but it felt good to give them some (new?) form. Now comes the hard part in finding solutions for those problems. But I'm looking forward to it and believe it's worthwhile to give the cleric a chance to be the class he should be (and those being worshiped the punch and power structure to go with it). We'll see how it turns out. Anything I wrote is, of course, open for discussion, suggestions and ideas.

*If I were to compile this stuff some time in the future, I shall call it Riches & Relics...
**Thinking about it, I always felt a bit underwhelmed by what a holy symbol meant in D&D. Guess I expected something more... divine?