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Lady Blackbird, Vanguard, and Lunar Notes. A few pages, perhaps pregenerated characters, rules on the character sheets. That’s interesting.

Originally published at Imaginary Vestibule.

Ragnarok

Apr. 9th, 2009 07:04 am
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I’m not sure how I missed the Ken Hite-scribed setting coming from Atomic Overmind Press, in which the Nazis summoned Jormungandr, only to see it nuked by the United States, which led to disastrous physical and occult effects including monsters, not to mention Soviet giants and a generally battered world. But I did. So there it is in case you did too.

Originally published at Imaginary Vestibule.

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The Character Builder has been updated, so I started fiddling around with Players Handbook 2 ideas. The first thing I statted up was a human shaman named Bivvy, who claims to be of a noble family fallen on hard times. His spirit companion is a butler. “Whichever type of spirit companion you choose, it can have any appearance you like.” I’m just sayin’.

He’s taking Wrath of Winter as one of his at-wills, on the premise that the butler ought to be able to appear at someone’s side noiselessly. Also, I think, Blessing of the Seven Winds. Bit of a tornado, what?

I need to find a small figurine depicting Stephen Fry to make this really work.

Originally published at Imaginary Vestibule.

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Danger, Will Robinson! D&D post! (I know. But I can’t bring myself to clog up the community with boring crap about a character nobody actually plays with. Er, clog it up more than once, anyhow.)

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Originally published at Imaginary Vestibule.

D&D Stuff

Mar. 2nd, 2009 11:26 am
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Just in case anyone was missing it — most of my D&D commentary will wind up over here, since I wanted my compatriots to be able to post as well.

Originally published at Imaginary Vestibule.

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I recently got a new text processing program called Scrivener. It’s oriented towards the writing process; you don’t use it to format text and produce final output. You use it to outline, shuffle, and put down words. I think it’s awesome for pen and paper gaming work, and I wanted to document my current workflow with an extended example.

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Originally published at Imaginary Vestibule.

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I tried using a stack of index cards instead of an initiative tracker last session, and it worked out pretty well. I put most of the monster stats on each card, plus checkboxes for hit points. I think it was smoother than using the tracker.

I may need to put more of the stats on each card; I kept having to go back to the book. Maybe only for more or less simple monsters, and Big Bads can still require book reference?

I really like the ease of having defenses and hit points all in hand, though. The checkboxes in particular fit how my mind works.

Originally published at Imaginary Vestibule.

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I’m still trying to fuse the brilliant combat engine from D&D 4e with the brilliant narrative engine from Gumshoe. You may not have known I was trying to do this. But I am.

Let’s skip over the skills question for now and pretend that we have a Gumshoe adventure all mapped out, with the multiple paths and the clues and the major and minor scenes. It’s a flowchart, basically. None of these scenes are directly combat-related, although it may require combat to reach a given scene. Here, have a PDF example. Contains spoilers for the Esoterrorists sample adventure, though!

Now: for each scene, we may (not must) attach either a prerequisite combat, a resulting combat, or both. A prerequisite combat is a fight you need to engage in, or possibly win, in order to get to the clue scene. The clue scene might be really brief; e.g., maybe the fight happens and one of the combatants has the clue on him. Or, say, you have to fight through the kobolds to get to the secret lair in which more information is available.

A resulting combat is when they come after you for finding a clue. Actions have consequences. I think it’s important to make the linkage super-clear for the best narrative effect.

The idea is that by strongly pairing investigative scenes and combat scenes, you reduce any chance that the players will feel like they’re playing two different concurrent games with the same set of characters. This is just a theory right now. I should probably test it sometime.

Another tangential note: you could maybe keep skill challenges as long as you went with the current WotC approach, which is that failed skill challenges result in problems rather than failures. This is attractive in that skill challenges seem to be cool, but I think it’s too much of a departure from the Gumshoe skill model. Or you could ditch the Gumshoe model altogether and make clue acquisition into skill challenges? I don’t know how to run skill challenges well enough to do this, however.

Originally published at Imaginary Vestibule.

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Running: one straight-up 4e game. We’re working through WotC’s module series. This is fun.

Playing: one 4e game which I’ve played in no sessions of but I like the writeups. Should be fun.

Will be running: online 4e game heavily influenced by The Shield and The Wire, or possibly the Scales of War adventure path instead, although I’d need a couple more people for the latter. Sort of leaning towards Scales of War for the sake of easier prep, but undecided.

Thinking about running: something, since certain people are not inspired, which is OK. But I don’t know what. I was thinking about a 60s flashy spy game, but the more I think about it the more I think I’m trying to shoehorn the wrong stuff into the wrong stuff. And when I strip away the Orlando Trash-related overarching plot and the Seven Houses stuff I realized I’m not as jazzed; there’s no hook there for me.

So maybe the modern mysticism Seven Houses game I’ve wanted to run for a while. Heavy influences are the background to 100 Bullets — the intrigue, not the noir stuff — and Mystick Domination, which nobody ever played but it was evocative.

Heresy: Kingdom Come? Shadowrun? Dogs in the Vinyard?

Eclipse Phase looks like fun but is not out yet.

Hm.

Originally published at Imaginary Vestibule.

LFR Update

Oct. 16th, 2008 01:32 pm
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Unfortunately the local Living Forgotten Realm group’s plans to run bi-weekly Sunday games fell through, and I can’t make the regular weekday games. There’s a big weekend event coming up in a couple of weeks that’d get my puny level 1 cleric up a couple of levels, and thus perhaps enable him to play in the next tier of adventures — but I’d still have the same scheduling issue, so it’s not really worth it to burn a day on that.

Possibly at some juncture the Framingham group that was discussed will get underway. Until then I’ll get my 4e kicks from running the modules. Since I was so jazzed about LFR to start with, I figured I’d toss out the update.

Originally published at Imaginary Vestibule.

Running 4e

Sep. 23rd, 2008 12:18 pm
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The thing that really surprised me about running 4e was how amazingly simple it was in practice. Setup is perhaps a different story, which I can’t speak to yet, but assuming you have an adventure in hand and a bunch of players, it’s nearly frictionless to run.

A well-presented adventure, as per WotC’s example, puts stat blocks for each monster with each encounter. These literally have 70% of what you need to run the encounter. You get each attack listed clearly, with the bonus to hit and the damage included, along with any other effects. Everything the monster might do is right there.

Each encounter also has tactics and of course room descriptions, which is another 15% of what you need. Tactics aren’t absolutely necessary but it’s handy to have the script for monster actions available. The room description gives you special features, treasure, and all that. Note that traps and such are statted up as monsters, so you continue to have the stat blocks handy and the mechanics aren’t any different. Skill challenges also fall into this chunk of material.

All in all, an encounter is going to be two or three pages. I haven’t checked but I bet the vast majority of encounters are two pagers.

The other 10% is condition modifiers, attack modifiers such as cover, and so on. I think I’ll have these memorized pretty soon, but in the meantime there’s an excellent Dungeon Master’s Screen which is stable and laid out in landscape format. The latter means you can see players behind it. It has all the charts you want. Literally. It’s impressive.

I added in Paizo’s GameMastery Combat Pad, which is a magnetic whiteboard designed for initiative tracking. I didn’t need it; I could have tracked initiative on the battlemat. But being able to slide counters around when people hold or delay is handy.

So what I discovered was that I could run the whole game standing up, with the combat pad tucked in the adventure booklet, in my left hand. Right hand’s free for dice, moving minis, checking off hit points. This may sound really trivial, but I ran four combats in five hours and I didn’t have to look anything up more than once or twice — OK, having players doing some lookups for me was handy, but even so. 4e is ridiculously easy to run.

I’m thinking about more tweaks. I found some full-sized 1″ maps for the WotC modules that some people did in Dundjinni and Campaign Cartographer (note to players: spoilers, try not to peek too hard), and I think I can use those to good effect to cut down on the time it takes me to draw maps. Also they’re pretty.

I’m definitely gonna use these encounter worksheets next time. It’ll make it easier to track hit points. I’m considering backing one of ‘em with magnetic paper so I could use the initiative magnets on that instead. We’ll see.

But it’s all gilding the lily. The core smoothness lies in the game. Kudos to WotC and the designers.

Originally published at Imaginary Vestibule.

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As an entry in this month’s RPG Carnival, I took a line of attack from Amagi Games; here’s a mini-system/technique for mechanically providing greater weight to the death of NPCs. This is sort of vaguely in the vicinity of being on-topic — the subject is character death, failing to specify player characters, after all. And undeath can be metaphorical. Or so I claim.

Following the cut, a list of steps.

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Originally published at Imaginary Vestibule.

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The Core Mechanic wants to get an RPG Carnival started, which is pretty cool. Carnival, in blog terms, is a once a month thing where a lot of different blogs write on a topic and the host does a big wrapup post linking to all of them. Generally the host changes each month. I thought about doing one at 20×20, but by the time I had the idea I’d run out of steam.

The theme of the month is character death and resurrection. I’ll be trying to come up with something smart to say.

Originally published at Imaginary Vestibule.

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The new version is pretty usable. The author fixed the issue of slider feedback, so it’s possible to be precise about how many dice you’re rolling. There’s also a new feature allowing you to auto-tally rolls equal to or higher than a target number. Finally, you can double-tap dice to hold them and reroll the unheld dice, which is cute.

At this point I’d say THAC0 is a good choice for die pool games, and D20 Dice remains optimal for other uses. I’d still like to see THAC0 have some sort of display of die type so you know if you’re rolling d10s or d6s or what, but in practice you’ll usually know.

Originally published at Imaginary Vestibule.

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One’s been out for a while, but just got upgraded; one just came out. I’ll do the latter first. Images follow.

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Originally published at Imaginary Vestibule.

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Pecha Kucha is a presentation style invented as a framework for architects and designers to present new ideas without going on all night about them. You get 20 slides, and each slide stays on screen for 20 seconds, timed. This gives you 6 minutes and 40 seconds to convey your idea.

That’s cool. Now the challenge: can you teach your RPG (or your favorite RPG) via Pecha Kucha? Hm, not that I’ve ever been to StoryGames Boston, but that might be the right locale for something like this.

Originally published at Imaginary Vestibule.

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This isn’t my technique; I’m stealing it from John Harper’s posts on Story Games. But it’s cool.

What you do is this. Buy the following items:

  • Mod Podge. This is the glue and the finishing surface. The gloss version is working for me but you may want matte.
  • Bag of circular cut outs. “Cut outs” is craft jargon for “little piece of wood.” You want the 1″ diameter version.
  • 1″ paper punch. That one is cool because it’s easy to see what you’re punching — other models are top-down, so you have to contort a bit.
  • Little dinky foam brushes. For the Mod Podge. I hear you can use cotton swabs for this too, but I’m a geek, so I like specific tools.

You can get all this stuff at a craft store locally, which is faster than Amazon, plus no shipping charges.

OK. Now print out some pretty pictures on (preferably) your color printer. Use Photoshop or Gimp or Preview or MS Paint or whatever to resize the graphics down to around 1″ big. Save paper; print a bunch of them on one sheet. They’re 1″ big, so you have plenty of room. Copy and paste for multiple kobolds. I’m thinking I’m going to add initials to my kobolds to distinguish the soldiers from the minons and so on. You don’t need to use cardstock or anything.

Punch out the circles with the paper punch. This is way satisfying.

Splortch some Mod Podge on the surface of a cut out. Use a brush so your fingers don’t get sticky. You can use a fair bit — it doesn’t seem to need to be a thin layer. Medium, maybe. Splortch splortch. Stick the paper circle to the cut out; smooth it out so there are no bubbles. Splortch.

Wait a few minutes for it to dry. You’re supposed to wait like an hour or so, I guess. I get impatient. I also sort of bend the edge of the paper down to match the bevel of the cut out.

Splortch some more Mod Podge on top of the paper. Use the foam brush to smooth and thin it out. It’s gonna seal the paper in, make it less delicate, and in theory make it look like the paper and cutout are one. Mod Podge seems to be really prone to textures; the foam brush appears to be key here to keep it smooth and, you know, glossy.

Let it dry more.

If you’re very ambitious, print out duplicate pictures with a red tinge to them, and stick those to the other side of the cut out so you can flip it over when it’s bloodied. This seems like a lot of work for something you could do with a red poker chip, though.

N.B.: real crafts people call this decoupage. When you go to the crafts store, you’re gonna see a bunch of wooden boxes and random objects next to the cut outs (which is a good way to find the cut outs, actually). Those are for the same purpose. I find myself tempted to do a decoupage box for dice and such like, with a lot of Larry Elmore art glued on.

Originally published at Imaginary Vestibule.

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Unexpected, but here it is.

What follows is a list of RPGs which, in my limited and human judgment, are frequently used as (or maybe just recommended as) rules toolkits: i.e., the mechanics are used or tweaked to run games in genres or settings other than those presented in the rulebook. For some games, like GURPS, that’s sort of a gimmie.

If you like a system, but you just use it for the setting(s) it was written for, italicize it. If you like a system and it’s one of your go-to tools for running games in random settings, bold it. If you like the game world but don’t care much about the system, leave it alone — you wanna identify the systems that you can practically teach from memory.

Copy to your own blog and repeat as desired. If there’s a game you’d bold that isn’t listed, add it. (I like Unknown Armies a ton, but it’s not one of my generic systems, so I wouldn’t add it.)

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Originally published at Imaginary Vestibule.

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After too much time spent poring through forums for D&D 4e character sheets, I wound up with this one, which worked out great in play. The form-fillable version, by some new Adobe magic, allows you to save your filled out sheet. Handy.

The landscape one found here is also very nice — much more compact — but not form-fillable. Plus I really liked the power card holder on the previous one. Yeah, I assembled it. Rubber cement and scissors and all. It’s handy.

Oh, yeah. Five hour one shot, four combats, a smidge of RP. We were focused on system. It’s a quick little combat system. It feels like D&D to me; you’re rolling a 20 sider and doing damage. Certainly PCs are way more sturdy early on. Still and all, rolling d20s, rolling damage, all that fun stuff.

Combat was really mobile. Lots of shifting and hitting and movement. I kinda wanna play Sunless Citadel in 4e to compare and contrast. Maybe I’ll go write up Cian now.

Originally published at Imaginary Vestibule.

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Obscenity ahead. You have been warned. In order to provide a proper buffer, I give you this picture of a typical pastoral landscape in Warhammer 40K:

There. Now. Where was I about to be? Right.

Fucking World of Darkness! I was looking at jeffwik’s list of systems and thinking about my go-to systems, which led me to think about Adventure. I’ve run Adventure in the D20 version and it was fun cause I had great players. But the system was a bit of a hack and eminently prone to abuse, so why was I not going “Oh, yeah, the original version, yeah.”?

Well, because there’s this stunningly elegant skeleton in the middle of Storyteller. Dots are great, the attributes are great, every shuffle of the names of the attributes and skills and shit has been just fine. Skill plus attribute is the best system, because even if you’re mostly using Guns and Dexterity, hey, the ability to use Guns plus Intelligence is fun. Yes it is.

And then there’s this steaming pile of wacky complexity called the combat system, and I lose it entirely, because I hate it, and while various and sundry people at White Wolf have made great attempts at revising it — the Aeon version of the system is pretty OK! — it’s still just oh god my head hurts. Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck. I get trapped in this every single time, too, I go “but the character creation system is great, how bad can combat be?” and it’s bad.

You roll! And then you maybe roll again, or maybe there’s soak, and you lose some dice for armor, or do you lose successes based on armor? Do you add Strength to your damage? Do you add Dexterity? Do you add an attribute sometimes, but not sometimes? Does it matter how much you succeed by? Can I dodge? Can I parry? Do I roll for dodge? What do I do with my dodge successes? FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK!

I mean. I play Champions. For fun. Don’t get on my ass about complexity, it’s my breakfast cereal. This shit makes no fucking sense!

Fuck this noise. I’m rewriting it. I even have design goals. Look, here they are.

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Originally published at Imaginary Vestibule.

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