Review Rodeo

Here are some great things I have been reading and playing to get me with through this ridiculous month. I know I am not the greatest reviewer in the world, but I want to support great work, so here we go:

No surprise to any regular readers of this blog, but I LOVE me some Cirsova. If you haven’t already picked up a copy. Do it. This is the best new pulp on the block right now. If you don’t find the stories great or full of ideas to steal for your table top RPG, there is something wrong with you.

I really like Dominika Lein’s writing. Her stuff has an air of mystery about it that I jam on. There is the story that is happening and then a bigger story that is hinted at, but never made explicit. From “can you use this stuff at the table” perspective, this book has potential as a great encounter for a space based game. I know that this supposed to be more of an RPG-focused blog, but even if her writing does not have anything good to use at the table, it should be read. It’s good.

http://store.steampowered.com/app/445190/Expeditions_Viking/

Expeditions-Viking

I am jealous of that beard.

I know that videogame RPGs cannot compete with the real thing, but this game makes a valiant attempt. Also, YOU ARE A VIKING. WITH A VIKING SHIP. Playing this wants me to re-skin ACKS with a Viking flavor for the next North Texas RPG Convention.

Now the following 4 books were graciously given to me by JimFear138, so I want you to be fully aware of that before I talk about them.

This one of Robert E. Howard Conan story with a great cover. A paperback series of all of Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories with covers like this would be fantastic. I don’t know what else needs to be said. Conan stories are good reads!

I am lumping these last three together because, from a tabletop gaming perspective they all fit the same niche. If you want to see my separate thoughts on these, you can check my Amazon review of each one. Creepy horror stories can provide lots of fodder for strange situations for the characters to stumble into or curses that they need to break. Also, they are good short creepy stories with a punch. If you need some good horror at a good price, check these out!

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And Now For Something Completely Different

This is for the person who really wanted to know:

I am working on perfecting my chili recipe. My most recent attempt was delicious but waaaaaaaay too greasy. My digestive system did not appreciate it, but my taste buds sure did!

Without further ado, here is my most recent attempt at making chili. This is based on using a 4 quart slow cooker. You may need to cut this in half for a smaller slow cooker.

CHILI
Serves about 4 adults

Ingredient List

2-ish pounds of ground beef (ground turkey works well too, just add a few drops of liquid smoke)
1 12oz package of bacon, chopped into little bits
1 28oz can of crushed tomatoes
2 14.5oz cans of petite diced tomatoes
1 onion, also chopped into little bits
3 to 4 stalks of celery, once again, chopped into little bits
1 4 oz can of jalapenos (substitute green chilies for less spicyness)
About 2 to 3 tablespoons of chopped garlic*
3 to 4 tablespoons of cumin
4+ tablespoons of chili powder
1 tablespoon of cayene powder
1 teaspoon of red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon of cajun seasoning

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Celery not in picture. Whoops!

Directions

I. Dump everything except the spices into the slow cooker.
II. Stir everything up with a wooden spoon
III. Add all the spices
IV. Stir everything again
V. Set the slow cooker to “Low”
VI. Do something else for 8 to 10 hours (if you are at home, stir every hour, but no big deal if you are unable to do so)
VII. Enjoy with saltine crackers, shredded cheese, sour cream, and/or cornbread

What Went Wrong

SO. MUCH. GREASE.

My bowels cried for a couple of days afterward.

I think, in the future, I will lightly brown the meat and partially cook the bacon, just to get the grease out. If you try this out, let me know how it goes!


* All of the spice amounts are approximate. Adjust to taste

Impromptu Playtest

On Saturday, I had an opportunity I was not expecting. A chance to playtest ‘Demons in Space’ with my in-laws. Somehow, my wife convinced her parents to try it out.

So I printed out a couple copies of the game…

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It truly is a wonderful thing to hold something you made in your hand.

…and whipped up a short scenario. What could possibly go wrong?

All things considered, everything went really really well. Heck, my mother-in-law did not even know what a tabletop roleplaying game even is until that day. Yet, she rose to the occasion…and then died horribly.

Some things I learned this time:

– Gun damage and power damage are not balanced against each other.
– The current effect of rolling a ‘1’ when wielding a chainsaw might be too harsh.
– Stimpacks might be too good.
– Grenades may also be too good.
– Cognitive Behavioral Shift can create unusual situations. I never thought I would utter the phrase “Okay. You Old Yeller’d the demon.”
– If anyone ever tells you game design is easy, they are lying to you.

Design Principles of ‘Demons in Space’

As I work on ‘Demons in Space’ and ponder my own journey through roleplaying games, I am thinking through my design principles. I do not claim that these are universal principles that should be applied to every roleplaying game that has ever been created, just that this what I am going for. To paraphrase the great RAZ0RFIST, a game (or piece of media) is good, if it succeeds at what it sets out to do.

So, in no particular order, are the design principles that I tried to adhere to from the game:

I. Don’t reinvent the wheel for most mechanics

– I made the game from the backbone of Swords & Wizardry.*

II. Remove most temporary +number and -number modifiers

– In my home games, most of my players struggle with keeping track of their temporary +number and -number modifiers, so I am replacing them with the Advantage / Disadvantage mechanic from 5E. For most of my players, the physical act of picking up two dice is easier to remember than add +2.

III. Maintain the feel of older FPS games (particularly DOOM), by scrambling around the environment to pick up supplies

– This is one reason I made the LT system.

IV. Give the players a feeling of dread, that they are alone.

– The players are alone in their adventuring. The cavalry ain’t coming, unless they find a way to get a signal out. This also means no runs back to a safe place to rest and buy more supplies. If they want somewhere safe, they have to make it safe via their actions.

V. Fast, brutal combat

– In keeping with the OSR nature of the game, I don’t want 45 minute long combat sessions, like 3.X or Pathfinder. I want combat short and brutal. Characters will die from time to time.

VI. Quick character creation

– Because characters die easily, I want to be certain that making a new character is quick and easy.

If I succeed at these, ‘Demons in Space’ will be a good game.


* I am in no way, shape, or form associated with the fine folks that made S&W

Thoughts On FPS Health Systems & RPGs

Something I have been noticing in later editions of D&D, as well as in the FPS (First Person Shooter) world has been an increase in of action “set pieces”. I define a “set piece” as a particular area in a game that is a tightly-controlled self-contained experience. Older games (both FPS and D&D) had more organic gameplay with fewer set pieces. How you dealt with a problem wasn’t just how do a players uses the tactical options of the character sheet, but how many resources was the player willing to commit to the problem and whether falling back to a previous room would be the better part of valor.

Sure, from time to time, you might be locked in a room with a boss monster, but that was the exception, not the rule. Backtracking for supplies or taking advantage of a previous room’s layout is an old-school way of play (yes, I am combining old-school FPS and D&D in this post). I can’t tell you how many times in DOOM, I have opened a room full of demonic entities, taken a bunch of damage, and fled to a previous room to grab a health pack. Then, because I knew the layout of the previous room and I knew that it is clear of monsters, I carefully drew the enemies into the previous room and slaughtered them mercilessly. Or, in a D&D setting, look at what the clever players in E. Reagan Wright’s game did:

Cray crayest thing they did though: they spiked a couple of pit traps open.  These are big 10 by 10 affairs that span the hallway, so the party was cutting off their options for retreat.  The party didn’t get it, but the magic-user insisted.  Not my place to judge – well, I mean, it is my place to judge, that’s kind of the DM’s role, but you know what I mean – it’s not my place to judge their tactics, only to judge what happens next.

…They blundered into a back room and found somewhere around 20 skeletons and a like number of zombies waiting for them.  With nowhere else to go and done being turnt for the night, the whole mob bum rushed the PCs, who were ready for them.

They hoofed it back to one of the open pit traps, and the magic user blew his scroll of Tenser’s Floating Disk to magic up a lily-pad that they could leap frog across.  They hustled the last tank over, dropped the spell and stood jeering and mooning the frustrated dead for a moment before exiting The Dungeon down a man but up a great big pile of gold and long lost forgotten lore.

However, in newer games, there is a bigger emphasis on “set piece” encounters. You enter a room and are forced to deal with what is in there, rinse and repeat. You go from one high-energy battle to the next in rapid succession. There are mechanics designed to quickly bring up the character up to full health, so that each encounter is an epic battle for the ages. The players are given many “per encounter” tools so that they can throw everything they have at a problem and then it will all be replenished just in time for the next big encounter. Keeping track of dwindling resources is of less importance.

Rather than the slow tactical gameplay that builds up to moments of pulse-pounding action, modern games want to keep the action going indefinitely. Yes, even the old DOOM games had slow moments, those times when the monsters were all slaughtered and you picked up ammo and health (or made the decision to leave the health for later), as well as when you searched for secret doors by running along the walls and smashing the “use” key.

What does all this have to do with health systems? Health is a resource that can spent and restored like arrows, flasks of oil, etc.

In many old-school D&D games, clerics do not get a spell slot until level 2. No Cure Light Wounds at level 1! That means the only healing available for 1st level characters is to rest and slowly regain health, whether in town or risking a night in the dungeon. Thus, entering battle is a big decision, because the players are risking their hit points, which do not come back easily. In older FPS games, there are only so many health packs on a map. Therefore, the player has to ration them carefully. If the character is missing 9 health, but a nearby health pack restores 20 health, do you heal now and waste 11 health points or do you save it for later? Of course, by not being a full health, you may not survive the next encounter.

Now compare this to modern games.

HealthRegen

BEHOLD THE POWER OF MY MICROSOFT PAINT SKILLS

In modern FPS, the trend has been toward regenerating health. No health packs on a map, just hide behind a wall for 10 seconds and suddenly you are at full health. Therefore, you can fully throw yourself into each battle, because you are 100% guaranteed to regain your full health between each battle, or even in battle. You cannot run out of regenerations (just like Doctor Who!), so there is never a situation where you need to completely change your tactics based on low health. It seems that once regenerating health became popular, it seems like the quality of most FPS games went down the drain. Good map design, careful placement of resources, etc went away in favor of BIG BOOM SET PIECES!

You can see the beginnings of this in games like the first Halo game. In that game, you have health, which is only restored between levels or via health packs. However, you also have shields that regenerate. Once the shields drop, health is damaged. This is a kind of hybrid between the extremes of health packs only and full regeneration, but the series hops aboard the regeneration train in the second installment. Much like Deism being the gateway to full-blown atheism in Western thought, the hybrid health / regenerating shield mechanic simply lead to full regeneration rather quickly.

This kind of thinking has even infected D&D. In later editions of the game, clerics get healing spells at level 1, many classes other than divine spellcasters get healing spells/abilities, and regaining health via shorter rests is easier than ever. If there ever is a 6E, I am certain that there will be a “regain all health after an encounter” rule written in. Simply put, this is not a good thing.

Here is one reason why:

Is there anyone who likes anecdotal D&D stories from modern versions of the game? Other than the “I rolled a 1 / 20 on the d20 and my GM made something funny happen”, there really aren’t any good anecdotal stories from modern editions and even the “I rolled a 1/20” stories get old quickly. With all resources (not just health) being plentiful, there are simply are no stories of daring or creative solutions to problems. The incident I included from Mr Wright’s D&D group is 77 times more interesting than anything happening in 5E…at least, interesting in a gameplay sense. There is all kinds of (bad) interesting things about the direction Wizards of the Coast/Hasbro is taking D&D.

Is this combined analysis of FPS and D&D accurate? Or am I out of my mind?


Now, I know that in my old-school-ish RPG, Demons in Space, through the use of health packs and the Loot Token (LT) system, a character can regain all their health after a battle. However, by spending LT for health, the player is not spending them on ammo, armor, or a new gun. My hope is that the LT system will allow for interesting situations in which players must use limited resources to accomplish their goals, but, they have a broad choice in which resources they have. Does a character have lots of ammo, but low health or lots of health and low ammo?

More Cirsova!

I Kickstarted Issue 6 of Cirsova…and let me just say…it is great!

If you aren’t sure about Cirsova, check out issue 1 on the Kindle and you will be hooked!

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Issue 6 will be coming out on Friday. If you missed the Kickstarter, you can go ahead and pre-order it. Also, the paperback and hardcover versions will be available then as well. Kindle copies of Issue 1 will be free all this week. All Cirsova Hardcovers have been marked to 50% off. Additionally, if you […]

via Big Sale This Week — Cirsova

Thoughts on Skills in Old-School Games

While working on ‘Demons in Space’ after the playtest, I realized I put the wrong table for both the Technician AND the Occultech. D’oh!

YA DINGUS

My self-portrait

Below is the updated Technician table, with the correct table…

TECHNICIAN

Equipped with lots of strange gadgets, the Technician tries to use technology to defeat the demons. Before the invasion, they kept everything running, whether it was fixing a computer or making sure an atmospheric filter was in proper working order. Now, they use their cunning and gadgetry to fight back.

Prime Attribute: Dexterity, 13+ (+5% experience bonus)

Hit Dice: 1d4/level

Armor Permitted: Light Vest only.

Weapons Permitted: Any.

Technician Class Abilities

Upgrade Weapon: The Technician can spend 1 hour to upgrade his weapon (except unarmed attacks and grenades). Any dice that are rolled for a weapon’s damage is increased by one step using the following chart: d4 -> d6 -> d8 -> d10 -> d12

If the weapon does multiple dice worth of damage, each die is increased. Thus, 2d4 becomes 2d6. However, this bonus to the weapon’s damage only applies to the Technician that upgraded it. The Technician cannot upgrade the weapon and then hand it to someone else, not even another Technician.

Technician Skills (on the roll of a d6, this is the result that succeeds):

1) Climb Walls. This what the Technician needs to climb a wall that others cannot climb by using a suction cup device attached to his wrists. If the wall is more difficult than normal (very slippery, for example), the GM may lower a Technician’s chances of success. In general, if a normal person has a chance to climb a wall, a Technician can most likely do it automatically.

2) Hacking. This is used for disabling electronic systems; for example, security cameras and electronic locks. Or access your email password. Or discover who hacked into the general’s private email server. Naturally if the task is harder than is normal, such as the opposing hacker being behind seven proxies, the GM may apply a penalty to the chance of success.

3) Stealth. The Technician turns on a personal stealth field and tries to hide from prying eyes.

4) Open Locks. Technicians can pick mechanical locks. Some locks might be unusually difficult, in which case the GM might apply a penalty to the chance of success.

Technician

Yes, I make tables and character sheets in Microsoft Excel.

However, the point of this post is to talk a little about skills in D&D-type games. I know that some folks in the OSR are against all skills (and the Thief class as a whole) and I see where they are coming from. Look at the skill system of 3.X / Pathfinder sometime. It’s a bit too much.

The issue is that adding a skill system means that players will not do something if they do not have the skill. If the Thief is the only one with stealth skill, then other characters will not try to do stealthy things. Those avenues (with skills attached to them) of gameplay are closed off from other players.

However, a simple skill system is not necessarily a bad thing. ACKS has a good skill system, but ACKS is generally too “rich” a system for my needs. However, there is an idea I am thinking about.

Every character has a 1 in 6 chance of succeeding at a skill, but the skilled person (in my case, the Technician) gets a higher chance of success, as reflected in the chart. Good idea? Bad idea?