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[Shadowrun] Run 1.1: Speakeasies, Devil Rats, and lots of Pizza

So, we had our first session of Shadowrun 5th edition today. It was a bit of a surprise for me. I had the rules beforehand (only as a pdf though, which was hard to read from), but I did not actually plan to do anything with it. Then my players actually asked if we could play some. It seems they didn’t play the pen and paper game yet, but they did play Shadowrun Returns.
It went ok, I guess.

We did not actually get far, despite the fact that I consciously had my players choose archetypes from the books instead of creating characters by the priority system. But then it turned out that one of us had to go on a spontaneous business trip in the morning, and another had to be home earlier. So, we managed to get the meeting with the fixer, the meeting with the Johnson, a single fight, and some legwork in.
On the other hand we want to meet next week again, which would be a record for our group.
The group consisted of a Chinese Ork gunslinger with triad ties (the archetype from 4th edition), a covert ops specialist (also from 4th), a black dwarfish decker with an online persona modeled on the Ms. Marple novel (the archetype from 5th ed.), and an occult investigator with an alcohol problem (also from 5th). I considered properly converting the archetypes from 4th edition to 5th, and then realized that the ones from 5th edition are wrong anyway, so I just did some basic conversion stuff to be able to get going and left it at that (well, I calculated the limits for the characters). If they get hooked on the game I might be able to create proper characters with them, so far those were mostly just so I could show them what was possible.
I also made pizza and salad, and one of my players brought tiramisu brownies, so that should have helped keeping the mood up.
I should have studied the combat rules more intently. I wanted to do some test fights against some opponents, but in the end I did not have the time for that. And that was after I had a week more to grok everything. Basically I only grokked most of the rules on Thursday. We were supposed to play last Saturday but had to reschedule, so that was not possible. So, after another week I now felt able to do it properly. It was a partial success. The Shadowrun 5 rulebook is slightly obtuse.
The characters met up (the decker only as an icon) in a dingy pizza place in Seattle Downtown, some dive that mostly was kept alive as a front for the owner’s fixer business. In a sort of emergent gameplay the characters all ordered a pizza and demanded to see the manager, which we established was the way to get an audience with the fixer. We soon came to the conclusion that that this also was the only reason why this place made any money to begin with.
The owner, a huge ogre called Mario, told them about a job. They were to meet their Johnson in The Speakeasy, a 1920s styled bar with some period-appropriate backrooms, and some less period-appropriate jukeboxes in the entrance hall. Hey, its all 20th century, ain’t it?
The Johnson was a mousy type who clearly was nervous. The job was simple: a datasteal from a small soda factory in Tacoma. The runners even managed to fret out the guys motivation, which either means I was playing the role really well, or just way too transparent.
After a few initial investigations the runners met at some dive bar in Redmond (The Crash) the occult investigator knew. She knew the bartender and asked if they could use the attic. Sure, the bartender said, if you don’t mind the rats. They did, but they agreed to take care of the rat problem, found out that the Ms. Marple-like icon they met at their fixer was actually a tough black dwarf, and then tried to take care of the rat problem.
And here I encountered the problem that I A) underestimated how tough devil rats are and B) did not completely figure out the combat system until 3 rounds in.
The combat took longer than expected, especially because I had to revise the rules constantly.
It took me nearly the first round before I noticed that yes, devil rats have a physical limit of 3, so they actually can’t have more than three successes in unarmed combat and defense rolls, even though I nearly burned a hole into the table with my successes.
The players on the other hand rolled mud. Most rolls they had did not even hit enough to start hurting the rats, and the ones that did glitched out at the same time. In the end it took 3 rounds until the decker finally managed to hit one of them by sheer luck. Two of the rats were finally killed by a spirit the occult investigator summoned, and that more because I couldn’t find the rules for spirits and did not want to bog down the game too much. Also I wanted to get on with things and at least I did roll successes for the spirit.
So then they had some planning and some legwork. After a short planning session one of them went out again to investigate further, he broke into an nearly abandoned property next to the factory and did some reconnaissance.
And then we had to stop.

Lets see what next week brings.

I remembered again what I liked about the game back when I played it more often, around 2000. The adventures are easy to do, the system is maybe not intuitive but easy to understand, and the background allows people to do a lot with their character. The world is just close enough for them to get into their roles properly, but far enough to have some really great worldbuilding in the game.

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.

My Frankenstein

I was not idle the last few weeks, I was just busy with other things and in places that didn’t have a good internet connection for blogging. Christmas, and work, and other stuff kept on interfering with that. I still worked on my own rules compendium. I renamed it from Gonzo to Frankenstein, because by now it feels less like improvised mayhem, and more like a carefully crafted body made out of parts of other bodies. It still looks weird.

At it’s core it still is OD&D (well, Labyrinth Lord), although the surrounding elements have changed. There is a certain mechanical orthodoxy that I like about the game, and I don’t want to change too much. I want this to be still recognizable as based on OD&D, that is why so far I tried to get around things like spell points or Ascending AC, both of which I find more natural and easier to handle. I did introduce Delta’s Target20 mechanism and a corresponding Fighting Ability score though, mostly because I find a single formula easier than looking up stuff in the tables. This, by the way, is also one of the reasons why no ascending AC so far: the Target20 mechanism uses descending AC beautifully. Also I would have to change ACs on all my monster statistics.
So far I have mostly added to the whole thing (classes, races, spells), purged a few things I did not like (alignments and a few spells connected with them), and then found a lot of optional rules that might come in handy once in a while. True, that does go against the idea of “Simplicity” and “Rulings instead of Rules”, but I try to keep them simple and mostly collect mini-games/subsystems for the sake of variety and ease of use.
That is what I am actually mostly going for: ease of use. Because I am the one editing this system, I slowly gain a good understanding of what different parts really do.

The chapter on combat gained a few more interesting bits, basic rules on how rule some specific combat situations, which all are just variations on a theme (it all boils down to “you get that bonus if you attack with that minus”). I know that this might keep people from really improvising in a battle, but they might show people what is possible.
It’s not like the whole thing is too long anyway. I cut down a lot of superflous stuff, made a few things easier to understand, and so on. The largest part of the whole thing right now is actually the endless lists of spells and psionic powers. I didn’t really want to cut too many of them  because I like variety. The amount of spells is a large part of the game in any case, and the characters don’t really need to read more than the ones they can actually use anyway.

I don’t want to allow players to gain more than a few whimsy spells from their guild, or whatever place they buy spells at. They will either have to research spells or find them on scrolls during the adventure. What sort of a wizards’ guild would just give out what amounts to spells of mass destruction to any PC just waltzing in anyway?

Anyway, so far the largest parts that changed are:

1. there now are 5 base classes that can be played by anyone without requirement and the psion is one of them, all other classes need requirements and/or special DM allowance

2. combat has become easier and has more options, the tables were replaced with a unified system which did not actually change anything mechanically

3. race-as-class now are called paragon classes (yeah, I stole that from 3.5) and cannot advance higher than a specific point, this doesn’t matter too much as multi- and dualclassing is available for all characters. Race/Class combinations are the normal way. I just noticed that my players all had played Baldur’s Gate before and had brought some ideas from there.

4. I reinstated the typical AD&D spell names

Still working on the whole thing. We finally might manage to play again next Saturday, so there it might get tested.

[Tools] Tavern Soundset for Syrinscape

Medieval Tavern

Medieval Tavern

Remember when I wrote about Syrinscape last week? It’s a soundscape program for RPGs that allows to create background noises for your RPG sessions. It already comes with a nice amount of different soundscapes that can be used for different uses, but at least one was a blatant omission: there was no soundset for a tavern or inn. The place where the whole adventure starts in, or at least stops by at one point or another.

But do not fret, I was sick the last week and spent a lot of time playing around with my computer. So here it is: the Tavern soundset.

Download (zip) 42mb (downloads from Dropbox)

Some notes about it:

1. To use it in Syrinscape it has to be unpacked  into the Syrinscape folder. After that it can be chosen as normal from inside the program

2. I originally created this with the Tavern music from Dungeons and Dragons Online in the background. Of course I can’t put that one on here for copyright reasons. If you want to use it then just download the DDO tavern music into the folder, maybe convert it to .ogg, and rename it so the additional files start with “e4”. The program then uses them in the music channel.

3. the soundset does use sounds found on freesound.org and CC-licensed music found on Jamendo.com (specifically from Fatzwerk, ENoz, and The Racoons, check them out!)

WARNING: as of the latest version of Syrinscape this does not seem to work anymore. It might actually work for you with some skilled trickery, but I can’t even get the new version to work, so there is that.

Where do all these undead come from?

mausoleum

mausoleum (Photo credit: andrewpaulcarr)

One of the ideas I just was having while thinking about the Wilderlands and their inherent danger was the amount of Undead one might encounter.  Where do all these come from anyway? There is not really a necromancer around everywhere, is there?

No, there isn’t. But what we have is ruins and lost villages, thorps that never had a chance, and the remains from battles long forgotten who never received a proper burial. And even if the dead received a proper burial their people might be gone now, and nobody would take care of their graves anymore.

In a lot of cases it might be that burial rites in a fantasy culture are not so much about giving people some closure about the loss of a loved one, but also to prevent their loved one to come back wrong. If graveyards and other burial places are not taken care of, if the spirits are not satisfied with the care they are given, they might just decide to come back. Alternatively if the empty bodies of the dead are not protected by reverence over time it might be that other, malicious spirits slip in and decide to use the body to fulfill their cravings  and desires.

d10 Why is that Undead around Table

1. Necromancer
2. The stars are right
3. Desecration, intentional
4. Desecration, unintentional
5. The lonely dead
6. Bodyjacker
7. Hell is full
8. Ancient battlefield
9. Wandered off
10. Escaped Slave

Explanations
Necromancer: he/she is training the art of necromancy, local authorities might offer a small amount to catch the graverobber
The stars are right… well, right enough for some dead to come back at least. The rest of the apocalypse might wait a bit longer, but for tonight the characters might meet 2d6 other undead of the same type around
Desecration, intentional: someone desecrated the gravesite, intentionally. Of course they might not have thought that their actions would make the dead walk again, but who would have thought? The gravesite needs a small ritual or cleansing performed to keep the dead from walking. A cleric might know what to do here.
Desecration, unintentional: someone desecrated the gravesite, unintentionally. “What do you mean our inn is build on an ancient Elvish graveyard?”. Technically a ritual would be needed here as well, but finding out what ritual that might be can be an adventure on it’s own. Turns out the tribe that lived here emigrated to the other side of the country, last century or so…
The lonely dead: nobody took care about the right rites for too long, now the dead feel lonely. So they come out of their graves to see their relatives. And then scold them for being so negligent in their duties. This might be solved by holding some simple rites to appease the dead.
Bodyjacker: these bodies were just lying around without an owner, so something (bad spirits, demons, etc.) decided to use them. Now they either need to be exorcised, or the bodies need to be made unusable
Hell is full, the dead walk the Earth. Oh, well… tonight town is full of them, for no reason at all it seems. But pretty much every more or less decent body (and some of the worse off) are on the street. 1d100 zombies and skeletons
Old battlefield: hundreds of warriors fell here, and nobody had time to bury them all. Now that just pisses off some people. There they died for their cause and now they are left to rot. As a twist on this the adventurers have been hired to lay a certain body to rest, but that one has wandered off in the meantime.
Wandered off. Somewhere in the area is a large tomb/mausoleum/dungeon full of the undead. This one just managed to walk past all the traps and doors into the outside.
Escaped Slave: someone in this area has been using the local dead as a cheap if gruesome workforce.  Now that might be of interest to the local authorities. Or it might be just what people do with the dead in this area.

[Labyrinth Lord] Easy Multiclassing

The only game I found which handled multiclassing in an elegant and simple way was D&D 3.X. And I had my gripes with that as well, the least being that it demanded a complete rewrite of the system and it’s classes to be feasible.
That was… a bit over the top I guess. But well, the game was a success, and despite the bloat rather playable.
It doesn’t work with the older editions though. In the older editions we have the awful concepts of dualclassing and multiclassing, which both kind of work, but are so artificial I wish they wouldn’t. So this is my way of fixing the whole mess for my games. It’s not an easy system for the characters. It punishes people for focussing too much on one career path, but that is actually quite ok I guess. The more someone advances in a class, the harder it is to learn something new. At a certain point it becomes more feasible to just start over again.
Requirements: this should work with race-as-class classes as well, but of course the requirement here is that the character has to be the actual race to take up a race class.

Divergent Classes
Characters can gain levels in up to 2 other classes after they already started a character if they 1) fulfill the requirements and 2) pay XP amounting to the highest level threshold among all the classes. So a character gaining a level in a new class will have to pay XP as if he was gaining a new level in his original class.
The characters uses the best abilities, saving throws, spells, and attack rolls available to him.
[yes, that means if a level 10 fighter wants a level of thief he has to pay 480,000 XP for each level of thief until both his careers are the same level]

Example: William the Wizard is a level 5 magic-user. He travels through the wastelands with his companions, fights quite a bit with strange creatures, and in the evening he lets Fred the Fighter teach him some martial arts. When the time comes to gain a new level William’s player decides that William might need some fighting prowess if he is to survive the wilderness. So he gains a level of Fighter. If he decides to level up his Fighter levels instead of his levels as Magic-User he will continue to pay XP as if he was levelling as a Magic-User, until the cost of the next level of Fighter is higher than that.

Synchronous Classes
Characters whose levels of classes are the same may level both classes together after gaining enough XP for both classes.

Example: William the Wizard is now a Fighter and a Magic-User of level 5. He decides that this is exactly what he is, a fighting mage, and decides to pursue this path of advancement. It’s harder for him now (he has to gain experience for both his careers) but the benefits are larger (he can roll twice for hit points after levelling).

Dual Classing
Characters can change careers and level in another class for the normal cost of advancement from level 1 on. For this the lose all the benefits gained by their previous class (including saving rolls, spells, and hitpoints), as they now focus exclusively on the new class. They gain the old abilities again after they reach the level of their previous class with their new class. After this they can level according to the above rules.

Example: Fred the Fighter learned a lot during his time teaching William. After teaching him a long time he gained some appreciation for the arcane arts. So much actually that he decides to learn magic for himself. When they reach the next city he searches out the local wizard and becomes his apprentice for a while. After a few months the wizard has taught him everything he could teach him, and Fred goes forth, searching for new opportunities to get better in his new craft.

[RPG Music] More RPG Ambiance Music

EVE Online - Caldari Freighters

EVE Online – Caldari Freighters (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I haven’t really been playing MMORPGs lately, not since I switched over to a Linux system in 2006, and so I am not really current with a whole lot of things here. MMORPGs never really caught my interest that much anyway. The only thing I ever played for longer was The Empire of Martial Heroes, and that one switched off it’s non-Korean servers in 2010. So there is that.

But I have been sickand bound to my bed for two weeks, and during that time I played a lot with my PC. Well, playing in this case was more trying to see if I can get Windows games running on Linux and then losing interest once it works.

I never said I was exactly normal.

Anyway, one of the things I found during that time was that there are a lot of games which put the music from their game online. Maybe for marketing purposes, maybe just as a bonus for fans, but the fun thing is: these things are wonderful for normal roleplaying games as well. Most of them are loopable to some extent, a lot capture the whole fantasy world sound quite effectively, and they are free. What more do we want?

Dungeons and Dragons Online: especially the tavern/bar sounds here are really nice for some unobtrusive background music in bar scenes. There are even different sets of those for different styles of bars. And the rest isn’t bad either. Will definitely use that one.

Star Wars – The Old Republic: made a large part of it’s soundtrack available for free just before their launch. Sounds pretty much like a Star Wars soundtrack should sound like

Eve Online: something more futuristic, synth sounds for space ambience; quite good as well

Lord of the Rings Online: the made the soundtrack available for a while, and it still is online. One of the most impressive ones around actually, I can definitely see me using that one in the next session

Allods Online: this one is a bit strange, as the official website links to a fansite and a torrent because they themselves can’t get to the files themselves. Huh? How is that even possible? Anyway, some nice atmospheric music.

Anarchy Online -Shadowlands and Anarchy Online 2: I don’t know much about these games, but the soundtracks are online and might be useful

Planeshift: well, I wasn’t too impressed the last few times I tried this game. But the soundtrack is quite nice.

Callers

Hmm… I was reading up on Gamma World (because I was thinking about doing some post-apocalyptic one-shot at one point) and came across this on Grognardia:

Like many old school rulebooks, Gamma World provides us with a transcript of play involving five PCs and the referee. That in itself is noteworthy, since it suggests that, even by 1978, the typical number of players had shrunk considerably since the early days of the hobby. Nevertheless, that party of five still has a “caller” who acts as the go-between for the players as they interact with the referee. There is no separate “mapper,” this being part of the caller’s job, though it’s noted that the two roles could have been split.

I never heard about callers before. This never really came up in any of the games I was playing. I guess it makes more sense with the larger group sizes that were usual in many earlier games. Having a someone  between DM and players might help facilitate the whole process of decision making. On the other hand it might make it hard for individuals to do stuff themselves.

I guess it really might be best for larger groups, where the flood of different ideas soon can fry my brain. Of course I haven’t been playing larger groups than 5 in the last 8 years or so, so the whole point might be moot as long as I don’t find some convention game here that wants to play in English.

But as a concept it actually might be quite nice: someone who actually relates the decisions for the whole group, not for the single characters themselves, but what the group is doing.

“We attack the merchants.”

It might make the whole thing a little bit easier to follow if only one of the people there can say what the group is going to do at any one point. Actualy, that still might allow others to get out of line…

“I attack the merchants.”
 “Wait, what?!”

… but at least it doesn’t drag the whole group into it. In the end it might be the fine distinction  between we and I that might make this a good thing to have. Hmmm… let’s think about that.

Diary of the Doctor Who Role-Playing Games

Over the years there have been multiple attempts [1] to create a Doctor Who RPG. Unfortunately those were not as successful as one would expect. The last incarnation, Cubicle 7‘s Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space seems to have some success though, so much that they recently published the second edition of that game.

Nevermind that though, there is a fanzine for that: The Diary of the Doctor Who Role-Playing Games (what a strange little title…) is already on issue 18 and looks very promising. It supports all the commercial variations that were published so far and has some interesting adventures in there every issue.

I guess once you get past the obvious issue with such a game (so, who of you is going to play the 1100-year old alien with the magic spacetime machine and the sonic screwdriver, and who’ll play the kissogram and the nurse?) one is left with a very imaginative universe that allows pretty much every adventure possible. The big strength of the series always was that the science fiction elements are just the background used to drop the heroes into whatever setting the writer felt like writing this week. A plot device that I think would work awesomely with some styles of roleplaying. Some, not all. I can’t see it working with my Traveller campaign for example.

But considering that my girlfriend jumped on the idea of a Doctor Who RPG as soon as I mentioned the existence of such, and considering all my players are fans of the series as well, I guess there will at least be a one-shot like that in the near future.

[1] the latter link will lead to the Wikipedia article on the Timelord RPG btw, which is available for free online. Not too bad.

[Tools] How To Use Usenet: A Biased Introduction

trn usenet client

trn usenet client (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Usenet was the first discussion board on the Internet, way before there were things like the world wide web or anything really graphical. Yes, there was a time when the internet existed that was there before there was HTML.

A lot of people seem to forget that, but the net did not just pop into being in the beginning of the 90s to provide us with the unlimited stream of cat pictures and porn that we have now.
Usenet is actually a very interesting concept, not quite the same as email technically, but not so different either.

When connected to a server one can download a stream of messages connected with a certain newsgroup, not unlike one would download mails, then disconnect, read through the messages, write responses that also would be posted to this group, and the next time one connected to the server those would be posted to the group, and then distributed to all other servers that carried the group in question. At the same time one would download a new batch of mails.
For me this is one of the most well designed technologies of the last 40 years. It is decentralized (one does only connect to a server, which in turn connects to others), it allows for discussions even with unsteady internet connections (less of a problem today than it was before), and it is low resource (all the messages are barely altered plain text and can be worked on in most email programs).
Unfortunately it also is a little bit more complicated getting it running that a simple click on the browser and navigation to some message board is. That is also one of the reasons why it has been dying a slow death for the last 15 years or so.
But then again, it’s still there. It still survived the onslaught of spammers and distractions by shiny new HTML pages over time quite nicely. Right now most of it is used for file sharing, so at least part of the Usenet is brimming with activity: One can, in certain groups, attach files (so called binaries) to the messages, and distribute them like normal messages. This is used as an easy and secure way for file sharing, but it is rather resource intensive for the server, so most of the services that allow this have to be paid.
I am not really interested in that part of the Usenet anyway, I am more interested in the discussion forums. So this article will talk about those.
There are a lot of them, and not all of them are active. Actually quite a lot of them are not and never were. Estimates as to how much of Usenet is  still in use vary, but technically there are hundreds of thousands of groups, and the amount of really active ones is about 800-1000, with around 10.000-20.000 having at least sporadic messages. But those statistics are a few years old, so take them with a grain of salt.
But even then, there are a lot of groups that are still active, in use, and which still get a lot of messages. Well, comparatively a lot at least. There used to be so much more each day, but that was a long time ago. Read more of this post