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Monthly Archives: March 2012

[Obscure Games] Over the Edge

Over the Edge (game)

Over the Edge (game) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For Christmas my girlfriend gave me an Amazon giftcard. She only figured that out the day before Christmas, which makes this the first time in four years when I had her present earlier than she had mine. Now such a giftcard is a nice idea, normally, it just met two roadbumps: it was a giftcard for the American Amazon (which meant that the postage would cost A LOT of the amount from the card), and of course the fact that many things I wanted would not be delivered to me.

I live in Poland, and even if Amazon shops claim they deliver to Poland (which they do, because I checked it multiple times) I always got the message that one or another item could not be delivered to me because of my location. As my current wants were mostly concerned with roleplaying games, and there mostly with the OSR, this was a bit annoying. (Specifically I wanted to have a copy of the Fiend Folio, but it just did not seem possible to get it from any shop that delivered here).
In the end I went with some classics: Call of Cthulhu and Over the Edge.
Now, I have the rulebook for the first one in Germany. The only problem with it being: it’s in German. And while most of my players at least know some German we still are playing in English.
The second one is another interesting case. I once had a copy of that game. I know the game. I have been looking for that game for years, and then I finally got it after years, looked a bit into it and proposed it to some people. But all the players I had back then said: thanks, but no thanks.
So it went back on the shelf. And then disappeared.

No, I don’t know how. The same thing happened to a few other RPG books in my collection that I distinctively remember having, the other one of note being a book with CoC one-shots I was desperately looking for at one point. They just remain gone.
Hmm… an Over the Edge rulebook that just disappears? How fitting…
Over the Edge is a game with an interesting history. It came out of a project between game designers Mark Rein*Hagen and Jonathan Tweet. Both had worked on Ars Magica before, now they were working on another project. Mark’s variation of the project was what later became Vampire: The Masquerade, while Tweet’s became Over the Edge.

While not really that similar both use a dice pool mechanic, and both deal a lot with conspiracies and dark secrets.
Now I guess it won’t be necessary to write about Vampire: The Masquerade, anyone involved in roleplying has heard about that game before (my opinion of it just for completeness sake: neat mechanics and nice background, smothered to death by metaplot). Not so about Over the Edge. While it had some modicum of success, with an host of scenarios and supplements, and even a second edition, it never really went mainstream. Nowadays it’s mostly known as a good example/inspiration for indie rpgs.

So, what was so special about it?

2 things: the rules and the setting. Both made the game a bit of an acquired taste.

1. The Rules

The Over the Edge rules are so lightweight it is hard to go more light without playing freeform rpgs. Nevertheless they are functional and easy to grasp. Characters are defined by a variety of traits and flaws which one is encouraged to chose specifically for the character. And in game one can role on these attributes.  It’s fast, it’s easy, it’s a nightmare for every simulationist.

2. The setting

Al Amarja, the island that is the setting of the game, is heavily inspired by the Interzone in Burroughs novels. Actually Burroughs always comes up as an inspiration. As do David Lynch, Franz Kafka, a lot of other literature and movies in the same vein: Al Amarja is a hotbed of spionage, mystical activities, mad science, and political activism. And did I mention conspiracies? There are conspiracies. Lots and lots of conspiracies. Even the existance of the island has largely been hidden by that, the island being just south of Sicily (and with that rather close to the real life Interzone…).

Frankly it was the setting which attracted me to the system. It sounded like so much fun. Of course there is a problem with that on might find out when trying to run a game there: do you know how much stuff changed the last twenty years? One has to think very deeply about how these changes affected the setting before being able to run proper adventures there. Oh, I could tell the players: you cannot investigate on the internet, but how much sense would that make? Especially to people who use Wikipedia as a second brain.

There is another problem in that vein as well: the game was written from an American perspective, and it shows. So we have the assumption that everybody wants to have guns. Or that the university has greek fraternities. And a lot of other small but significant things. This of course is designed that way for a reason: Tweet was writing the game for Americans. It jst makes it rather grating for Europeans. Still, not too bad. Most of the stuff can be justified somehow.

Of course I read someone’s comment on a forum once who said he had made up Wikipedia pages for the island and the most important features there that were so good his players started to assume it actually was a real place they were going to. That actually sounds like awesome props for such a game. I think I will plan a one-shot in the game and not tell my players what sort of game it will be.

Stuff to add to my homebrew system

Stuff to add to my homebrew system:

The Land of Nod’s Beastmaster class. There is a large part of fantasy/adventure literature that gets short shrift by us roleplayers because nobody ever thought about putting that particular character concept into a class. Well, here’s for all those wanting to play Tarzan.

The Land of Nod’s Scientist class. I might not actually use this in all my campaigns, but it is an archetype that could be seen as quite universal. Also I was wondering if I wanted to have a more technology centered class in the setting, but so far all variants i looked at (Alchemists et al.) were a bit lacking. This class has some beautiful ideas in there.

And the Bard from there. Seriously, The Land of Nod has some awesome stuff, just as I would like it in my own game. The kicker about the bard? The class doesn’t have proper spells. For some reason I never thought it a good idea to give access to spells to most of the characters possible. The class DOES have some spell like abilities, but not the usual spell lists that for some reason really don’t fit. (The Barbarian from the same article doesn’t really fit in my opinion)

The Yogi:  a pacifist cleric variation that does not get experience from violence. Sounds like an interesting challenge to me.

Hey Dark Lord! What happened to you? You used to be cool…

… and now you are driving a dirty Ducato.

Poles love Warhammer

Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay

No, seriously. It’s even a bit creepy. In Poland Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay is THE roleplaying game. This comes from the time when Poland finally opened up to the west and the first proper game that was published was WFRP. It gelled perfectly with the Polish soul. And if you don’t know what I mean with that you have never seen vendors sell candyfloss and balloons on a Polish cemetary.

This of course poses a certain problem for me, as I have a profound dislike for Warhammer.

It’s not that I really hate the system. I will not go and tell lies about it, I will not try to make it worse than it is. There are even some nuggets in there that I really like (e.g. Skaven). But in my opinion the whole Warhammer background is needlessly gauche and over the top.

Warhammer is… how shall I say it? Like a Manowar album. It’s nice listening to their songs once in a while, singing along with these ridiculous lyrics, trying not to break into laughter when looking at them in their videos, all earnest and proud. But how am I supposed to deal with that all the time?

Of course the problem so far only came up in discussions about roleplaying. In my English language group I have two players who do play Warhammer, but I don’t. And so I don’t need to play it with them. And I don’t speak enough Polish to play in a game yet, so that option will not even come up.

The infuriating thing comes when someone tries to tell me that Warhammer is the top of the evolutionary ladder for RPGs, and that D&D must be for kids because it has all these ridiculous monsters. Completely unaware that playing Warhammer and telling people that their game is kids’ stuff comes across… rather like a bratty teenager, desperate not to be seen as a kid anymore.

Well, hello, we are playing games in which we are wizards and thieves and elves and whatnot. Not trying to seem like kids should not be the top of our priorities!

Of course I met other people like him before. The same arguments I heard in Germany about DSA. Maybe that is why it annoys me that much. Because I thought I had these discussions behind me already.

[Tools] Found: GM Template for creating Mysteries

Some wonderful soul posted this on reddit/r/rpg: A template for creating Mysteries. It lets you create a story on how someone got to kill someone and why, and then lets you tell the story in reverse. Uhm, was that explanation clear? Anyway, looks like a helpful resource!

[Tools] Warming up before a game

I wonder if anybody else is doing this: Warming up prior to a game.

For a bit of background: I was an amateur thespian for a long time, mostly just doing some drama stuff in school and university, sometimes when working with children and adolescents. So I was not actually doing anything really close to real acting, even if a lot of effort went into it.

So it was kind of natural for me to use some of the techniques from acting for my games.

Now, both are not the same. As other people do as well, I tend to get a bit annoyed when someone tries to go full armchair thespian, acting out everything, hogging all the spotlight with his one character. But I noticed that it sometimes helps me as a DM, especially when doing adventures with a lot of different NPCs. I normally try to give every one of them an at least marginally different voice, most likely due bad experiences with some DMs who could do exactly two different voices (one funny, one earnest).

Leading by bad example: you don’t want to be THAT DM, do you?

One of the main ‘tricks’ (well, it’s not really a trick) is to warm yourself up before the game. You will be playing something akin to improvisational theatre for three to five hours, and the DM is the one who has to get into multiple roles. Yes there might be a lot of dice rolling involved, but even then fights will be with NPCs (…hopefully).

So why not get yourself in the mood for that before?

Now, warming up sounds terribly proactive, but I am not talking about going out, doing some stretching and some laps on the track and then sinking to the ground with a heart attack. That actually might be bad considering your players would be waiting for you while you are so selfish to die somewhere on the race track when you should be dungeon mastering.

No, I am talking about some basic things that help you to get into the mood for acting. Something like making funny voices, twisting your tongue around so it doesn’t feel like it was glued into your mouth anymore, and, maybe, even getting up and stretching yourself in a few ways.

That’s not too hard, is it?

I noticed that doing a fifteen minute warm up improves my performance in the game quite nicely. Sure, at one point during the game I might reach that level of ability without a warm up, but it will take time, and when working a full workday before a game it will end up with me already falling into this dark hole of braindeadness that follows 13 or 14 hours of thinking on my feet. (player: “So, I am attacking the orc.” me: “huh?” player: “I am attacking the orc!” me: “oh, right… right… I need to roll for that orc, don’t I?”)

The idea about warming up exercises and games before playing theatre is simple: getting people out of their comfort zones into a mood that allows for quick thinking on their feet, getting voice and body ready for acting. This of course means that in many cases it is not necessary for DMs and players to do a full program of exercises before. When I was playing theatre it was about 30-45 minutes of warming up, and that was before practice, with basic exercises, and then going to short impro pieces and, yes, even some roleplaying. According to professional actors it is not really possible to really act without these exercises, but of course, no matter what people think about the artistic merit of roleplaying: It would be too involving to do all of this just for a quick session of D&D. But at least a few quick exercises help me as a DM if I get myself out of my comfort zone and into a mood to do a spontaneous goblin impersonation when need arises.

Further information (theatre-related):

Some nice videos about this from the Royal National Theatre: Breathing, Resonance of Voice, Opening up the Voice, and Articulation.

A short guide with more explanation on how to do a Physical Warm Up from the British Theatre Guide.

Improv Encyclopedia has a whole lot of Warm Up exercises. These are mostly for real theatre groups though. I think there might be a bit of sense in doing a short teambuilding exercise as is described here, but which group is seriously going to do that? In my opinion it might help people to gel with each other a bit better. Maybe I should think about some similar ones that can be done in 5 minutes around a table. Short session of Mafia before the real game maybe?

[Labyrinth Lord] Hopping Half-Vampire Freaks

Oh, today is one of these fantastic days.

Around 13:45 I say to myself: “Hey, it’s sunny and warm right now, let’s put all my trousers into the laundry! They will be dry until I have to work tomorrow.”

At 14:15 my colleague calls and says” “Hey, where are you? You have afternoon shift today.”

And I say: “Oh, f—.”

My schedule this month is kind of crazy.

So I am sitting at work right now, thinking about what to do with my time. I found a pair of jogging trousers in my wardrobe which of course are totally against the company dress code, so shhhhh… There is nothing to do, no mails, no tasks, hopefully no calls.
Because if there is a call it means something has gone belly up. And I really can do without that.

So, what to do with the time?

Hopping Half-Vampire Freaks
No. Enc.: 1d2 (1d6)
Alignment: Chaotic
Movement: 60’ (20’)
Armor Class: 7
Hit Dice: 2
Attacks: 1 (touch, see below)
Damage: 1d8, drain life energy
Save: F4
Morale: 10
Hoard Class: VII

In certain regions of the multiverse the local vampires are not the noble and glamourous monsters they have come to be known as in the rest of the world. They instead are freakish creatures that lure unsuspecting victims into the darkness of the wood to suck out their blood. The interesting part about these beings in this case is that they literally are half-humanoid in their appeareance. The right or the left half to be exact. Legend says that these beings are created by mad shamans or others of similar disposition by using the corpses of murderers executed by being sawed in half. It seems that the bodies of people executed that way are easy to possess for the demons and spirits that animate the bodies of the soulless.

The resulting undead are… notoriously hard to control thanks to a very limited intelligence (they both have only half a brain after all…) and very thirsty for human blood. They nevertheless have similar problems as other vampires, while the stake to the heart might not work against them that well, the powers of clerics affect them like mummies, and sunlight burns them like fire.

New spell:

Two for the price of one
Level Shaman 3, Cleric 4
Range Touch
Duration: Ritual

The spellcaster creates a vortex into the netherrealms inviting a host of demonic spirits to inhabit the half-bodies of a murderer sawed in half. Both body parts will animate and follow the will of the spellcaster to a certain degree (the resulting creatures notoriously being dumb as bread).

Wuxia for the OSR

The Flying Swordsmen RPG is now available. This looks extremely cool from what I have seen so far. Actually I would like to have a paper copy of this in my shelf. It looks so far the most impressive of all tries to get some oriental flavor into the D&D game.

It uses special stunt dice for conflict resolution, and as far as I have seen, an adaption of what seems like 3rd edition feats into the system as spell-like martial arts. Spell-like in the sense that any class might learn a specific amount of martial arts per level, they do not seem to be restricted in how often they can be used during a day. At least if I understood that right.

Anyway, looks very promising, and I guess I will see what I can do with that particular game. Even reading it makes me want to play a game with it. On the other hand I just watched A Chinese Ghost Story again, so there is that.

[Labyrinth Lord] Wolpertinger

No. Enc.: 1d4 (2d4)
Alignment: Neutral
Movement: 90’ (30’)
Fly: 120’ (40′)
Armor Class: 7
Hit Dice: 2
Attacks: 2 (bite, horn)
Damage: 1d4/1d4
Save: F3
Morale: 10
Hoard Class: None

Wolpertingers(VOL-pa-dink-A) live mostly in mountainous regions, and there on the meadows and forests covering those areas. They are not a danger in themself, being omnivorous, but mostly hunting smaller animals, but they can attack ferociously when provoked or put in danger. They are quick, agile, and have tusks that can kill people (as well as a firm bite, normally used to crack nuts), as well as wings that can be used for skillfull flights.

The Wolpertinger as such is a rare creature, and might maybe not be quite natural. Indeed the various elements of it’s body speak of the workmanship of one or more rather mad wizards trying out a few new things. By now these creatures breed true though, and often they are an integral part of their environment. As integral as a horned, flying rabbit with sabreteeth can be anyway.

d20 Encounters in the Library of Unseen University

English: One of the aisles inside Chetham's Li...

One of the more accessible areas of the library

d20 Unseen University Library Encounters
1. Bookworm! Out of nowhere a magical bookworm starts to burrow through the side of a bookshelf and into the next. Everyone in the vicinity has a 1/20 chance of being hit for 1d6 damage
2. Solitary Rogue Thesaurus hunting for smaller dictionaries and manuals.
3. Tribe of lost research students hunting. 1d6 1st level magic users
4. lost research wizard, scarred and bruised, a hat made out of the pages of an ancient grimoire (1d3 spells), begs characters to take him with them
5. free spells. these spells have broken free and now are inhabiting a small part of the library. roll randomly to determine type. Roll 1d6:1-4: nothing happens, 5: spells trying to act out their nature on the characters, 6: they are friendly and trying to find a new home
6. gap to L-Space, from here the bookshelves seem to stretch even longer into the distance, far much further than they should logically be able to
7. trap to L-space, just as 6, but this one is not easily recognizable as a gap. Maybe it is on the floor. can be found as normal traps
7a. grimoire of ancient power and vile evilness, this is a really terrible grimoire that holds secrets unknown to men. Unfortunately it is written in a language nobody has understood for 7.000 years, and it is so aggressive it had to be chained to a large stone table. Characters might try opening and reading it, but the thing likes to bite
9. a herd of 1d8 small grimoires. These books are shy and skittish, but they contain 1d4 spells of 1st and 1 spell of second level each. They like to bite though. Characters should be aware of how dangerous these can be.
10. Death from Above! 1d4 spellbooks try to kill and eat the characters by the old drop bear tactic: drop on them from high and kill them, then feast on their remains. Although technically they were going for other books they might make an exception for the characters
11. There is a spot in the shelf that seems oddly free of dust and cobwebs. A short search finds a book of erotic poetry among works on the theory of thaumic resonance in gardening
12. There is a loud holler and a dark shadowy figure formed a bit like a sack of potatoes is moving very fast along the bookshelves, swinging from one enourmously high shelf to the next.
13. magical lightning crackles among one shelf of strange, forbidding books. touching it with bare hands or metal will result in 1d4 damage as a result
14. Aerial Rats are trying to build themselves a small community here
15. A skeleton can be found, reading a book on a table. Investigating will show the skeleton to be a totally inanimate skeleton, and the book a Howtoe off Selff-Hypnoticks
16. The heroes see themselves in the distance, going in the other direction
17. A stash of bananas can be found about 6 foor over the floor. They look fresh.
18. Whispering in the aisles as if someone is having a hushed but intense discussion, when the heroes look there will be no-one around.
19. Whoops? Where did that aisle go you just came from? Now there is a dead end where there was an aisle before. You swear the bookshelves just moved.
20. Students! You meet a group of students actually trying to study. Weird!