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Tag Archives: Game

The Curse of Being a Responsible Adult

It has been a year since we played any RPG. I was just talking about this with one of my players. The last RPG we played was the second session of Shadowrun a year ago, and then some Arkham Horror later on.

In between our group did meet, but stuff kind of shifted away from role-playing over time. I still prepared scenarios, but we haven’t played any. We played boardgames, went to film festivals and movies, met for half a dozen other things. Just the role-playing didn’t work out.

The curse of being a responsible adult, you still might like the same things as before, but you don’t have the time and energy to do it all.

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[Tools] Old School Tool

Now that is something nice I came across today when looking through the categories at Sourceforge (I was looking for a task managing tool that could sync with Google Tasks, I ended up in the Games section…): a Java based  GM screen tool for AD&D or OSRIC (although it can be adapted for 2e and 3e). Java-based means it will run pretty much on every system that has Java on it, and GM Screen tool means it is supposed to replace the usual paper one with some additional functionality.

Even better it is actually quite customizable, with all the tables in the program being changeable and extensible as far as I have seen. So if I wanted, for example, to use the whole thing for my campaign and I had specific armour for my campaign that was not in the OSRIC book, I could add it easily via the main window to have it accessible in the GM screen window during actual play.

That GM screen window is actually what this is about: the window can be used as a convenient GM screen that allows to look up stuff and calculate things on the fly. The combat and save tables can be found in there, as can the magic item tables, and the latter ones can generate treasures on the fly. Neat. I might think about using this during my next game.

What the whole program is not is a replacement for actual rules, or for a real campaign planner. This program is only there to help during the game. Considering that I already have been using my notebook as a DM screen I think this program might make the whole thing a bit easier.

Poker Chip Ideas

English: Poker Chips

English: Poker Chips (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Bennies

The idea comes from Savage Worlds, a benny is a single token that can be exchanged at one point during the game for a certain effect. Every player (GM included) gains a certain amount of bennies per session. In my game I was thinking about giving it the ability to 1. soak damage for one attack 2. change 1 1 critically failed check into a normal failure 3. Reroll a check and keep the better. 4. Make a normal attack into a +1 attack (including counting it as magical/blessed) The GM has it’s own pool of Bennies and may use them for Monsters and NPCs, or award them to players for especially cool moments

Hit Points

I was thinking about using poker chips for these. Every player has an amount of chips in the size of his/her hp. When damage happens they lose those until they reach 0. Alternatively the GM hands out red chips for wounds. The kobold hits? Here’s three chips. This actually might work together. With the rules I have in place to soak damage (Shields shall be splintered! and maybe the Bennies from above) I might just assign the red chips, and if the character doesn’t soak the damage next round the amount of red chips gets taken from the hp chips.

Mana

The idea also would work with spell points or, if that ever happens in my games, power points. I guess it would be easy to keep track of those with chips. Of course I use straight Vancian magic, so most likely not.

Experience Points

Here’s an interesting idea: have the players assign the XP in the end. Just drop a load of chips with the right amount on the table and tell them they can divide the XP among themselves. This actually might be useful even during the game. Character does something freaking awesome? Have an xp chip.

[Wargame] A Sky Full of Ships

A Sky Full of Ships is a nice and very basic looking space combat system that I have been looking into lately. It simulates space combat between single ships rather  nicely, and I thought about using it as a replacement for the usual Traveller ship combat in a few cases (All of those that would involve lots of ships fighting each other… I am planning to hit my players with the Fifth Frontier War soon). Funnily enough I don’t seem to be the only one doing that, as there are some nice and concise other houserules for exactly that on the net.

The system is free and online, and seems to be easy to handle. Which is good, considering that my experiences with wargames are so few to be nearly nonexistant. The rules are lightweight, the stat blocks are a bit crude but effective, and all in all this seems to be a nice addition to my game. Lets see if my players think the same.

A Sky Full of Ships – Free Rules (also as a pdf)

ASFoS-Traveller – Houserules for playing in Traveller

Resource page, with rules for Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, Star Wars, and a few others (seems to be outdated, but the replacement link is not working)

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] 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?

Why listening to boozed roleplayers is useful (at least sometimes)

English: Warsaw Downtown skyline

Image via Wikipedia

I am listening to the Happy Jacks podcast quite often on my way to work. Together with the RPG Circus and Fear the Boot it is one of the most listenable podcasts about roleplaying around. Ah, well, and it is the funniest, which might have to do with the fact that the guys skillfully blend drinking lots of beer with bullshitting about roleplaying games. Although some of the best ones are the livestreams from the cons they attend, I sometimes have troubles keeping a straight face when on the tram. All of a sudden someone tells about a game that involved dinosaur-riding nazi gnomes or lazerponies with war flashbacks and… I don’t know, I just lose it. My fellow travelers might think I am a bit strange, but well… that might not be so new.
So, what actually peaked my interest was one of these letters they had a while ago, written by an Aneta (wait, whut?!) from Poland (Whut??) talking about expatriates playing games in English.
Hey, that letter is talking about me!
Well, not really. It turns out that what I expected is actually true: there are people playing RPGs in Poland that do play in English and do not actually play Warhammer.
Unfortunately they are in Warsaw, and I am in Łódż, as usual. Because which expatriate would be so stupid as to move to Łódż when he could have the real big city?
Uhm… me.
The Warsaw-centrism in Poland is something really annoying in this country. It’s always either Warsaw (the capital) or Kraków (the historic capital) which get all the glory, jobs, and interesting people.
Oh my god. I sounds like a Lodzian. I have gone native!

In other news: nothing is happening today

It’s my own fault. Instead of having my first Call of Cthulhu session ever today (after months of having no time for anything) I got roped into doing yet another shift at work.

Note to myself: never answer the phone when your boss is calling on your day off!

I thought I had learned that before, but obviously I didn’t.
I got talked into coming way too easy anyway. I was half-asleep when he reached me and I can’t even remember all the other things we talked about besides me taking over this shift.
It cuts into my gaming though, goddammit!

Which is especailly grating for me as I wanted to do that session of CoC since… well… forever. 
This might not really be as exaggerated as it sounds like. Call of Cthulhu was the second RPG I ever got into contact with, before even reading Lovecraft, before even knowing what RPGs are. I found articles on it in an obscure computer game magazine in 1992 and was intrigued by what was written there (it was mostly a review of the old Dunwich supplement). Especially as back then I did not have a clue how the articles related to the actual game it described. I knew the games were something similar to Das Schwarze Auge just with horror instead of fantasy. But back then I did not even know what that was about.
Funnily enough I have the rulebooks for the game, and had them for about a decade now. In multiple editions even. I just never played it.
Well, seems like I will keep on never having played it even longer.

[Obscure Games] Nephilim

Nephilim (role-playing game)

Image via Wikipedia

So it was another day in the big city for me, and it must have been around 2000. The “big city” it was because it was the next town with Gaming Shops (in this case Bayreuth, where every summer people from all over the world gather to listen to Hitler’s favourite composer and/or show off that they can), and it must have been 2000 because that shop closed down when the Euro came. Not that this had anything to do with each other, but I remember the owner complaining that he had to change all the prices in the store to Euro, even though he only would be open for another month after the currency change.

Anyway, it was that store where I found this game. I hovered a bit between the German version and the English version, but then I took the English one, mostly as they threw in a few more books into the deal. That alone told me back than that the game might already be a lost cause. And it was, in a manner of speaking.

Technically the ‘obscure’ part in the title is rather debatable. Originally a French game with multiple editions, it was published by Chaosium in the Anglo-Saxon world. Going with all the clichees that one expects from the CoC-loving French (get your mind out of the gutter, I’m talking about Call of Cthulhu here) the game was based on Chaosium’s Basic Role-Playing system.

I never found anyone who ever played this game for real. Myself I thought about using it as a source book for a Call of Cthulhu campaign, but that never materialized, mostly because my tries to play CoC never turned out so successful.

Maybe I should try to find the French version as a reference, but the English version at least was rather heavy handed, and I doubt that style was something not present in the original game.
It was another one of these games which had a high concept but lacked in execution and desirability to play.
It even tried to show this with it’s tagline: Occult Roleplaying.
According to the story presented in the preface the authors were discussing a new game when they were approached by a gentleman who had heard them talking. He talked to them about occult topics, and allowed them to use his library of the occult for further research into these areas.
In other words: this is the game BADD was afraid of when they were talking about Satanism in D&D: a game which actually researched it’s occultism and put in all the real stuff. This is what Jack Chick was warning us about.

So, how does it hold up?

Well, all in all it’s a half-hearted Call of Cthulhu pastiche. And not only because the authors had the great idea to base the rules of their game on BRP. That one was more a stroke of genius/outright luck. CoC has a completely different status in France than in the rest of the world, and most players are at least familiar with the system.
The whole setting is also so close that one might easily use parts of Nephilim for a crossover campaign with Call of Cthulhu. Basically there is only one difference between both games: in Nephilim you play what you would fight in CoC.

I wonder why nobody ever pointed that out, especially with the extra creepy descriptions in Nephilim itself. The Nephilim, to go a bit into the background, are ancient spirits which once had a body but now are disembodied spirits who have to take over human hosts to stay in this world. They take over the bodies of their hosts completely and will try to get out of their own lives as soon as possible to be able to use the body in whatever way they need,  slowly transforming the body of their host into a form that matches their own spirit.

Does that sound creepy to you? It does to me.

What you are playing in this game is basically a psychic rapist, a changeling, a body-snatcher, taking the body of someone else and replacing the original conscious with something else. And that character has been doing that for a long time before.
There is a very interesting character generation system where one has to choose which previous lives one has lived. This is easily one of the coolest things about this game, one can choose multiple past lives and gain background and skills from that, of course against a price (I think it was essence power).

When incarnated into the new body there is an interesting system of different tribes and groups that can keep one interested in an intrigue game similar to the one in all the WoD games, there even are similar evil spirits (more evil than mindraping body-snatchers? Really?) just as in every single WoD game. And there is interesting informations on a magic system that is based on occult teachings (which amount to fancy descriptions for spells that do nothing in particular), there is indepth reearch into different areas of occultism (which of course was inspired either by the Nephilim or their antagonists), and there are lots of interesting conspiracies and mysteries to uncover (which at least in the English version seem to happen only within the United States).

And all the time while I’m reading this thing I have to think to myself: Jesus, this is a game about constant mindrape. Not only that, but there are mechanics in the game that cover how the soul of the host body actually reacts to the intrusion by the Nephilim.Which also keeps in line with the backgrounds of pretty much all the WoD games. Only that this one was more overt than anything Vampire ever signified about rape.

I never got up the will to use this game for real, mostly because I never could get the will up to play. It would make an awesome source for a really huge CoC campaign though. And not only that, it even would have the right stats, well, besides the sanity at least. This is a annoyingly well written game actually. I just wish it was less… rapey.

At least it’s not FATAL.