Dagnabbit…Politics Time

I didn’t want to do this. But it is becoming more and more clear that we cannot simply enjoy our hobbies without political issues being shoved down our throats. The time may be coming (and may have already come) where you cannot be neutral or non-committal regarding hot-button political issues. You must take a stand.

I have strong political opinions and you, dear reader, can probably guess most of my politics. However, I try not to talk about it too much here. Politics is not my goal in creating this blog, but it has been encroaching into the hobby.

I don’t want this to happen. I play tabletop games and read speculative fiction to get away from modern politics. I don’t want them injected into the games. I know that I have been vocal in my support of Shitlord: The Triggering and that seems to violate the previous statement about injecting politics into the hobby. However, if the time has truly come for politics to be in the hobby, I would rather have politics that I agree with than politics I disagree with.

I believe it is author Brian Niemeier has said something to the effect of “stop buying media from people who hate you”. I want to be careful about this “us vs you” narrative, but I am coming around to this view. I would include a disclaimer that if someone does not make a big deal about their political views, assume they do NOT hate you. I do not want to punish those that want to keep their mouths shut about politics. If someone can keep quiet and let wrong-thinkers enjoy their creation, more power to them!

I hope that in the future, we can get away from real-world politics in our hobbies, but we have to deal with the world as it actually is, not how we wish it was.

Anyway, since you come here for some gaming related content, here are some unrelated, hastily-assembled nuggets for your game:

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Hahahahaha!

You new magic item! The Tactical Katana is a +2 katana that can turn a miss into a hit once per day. Also, when wielding the Tactical Katana, you are despised by women. Finally, you may hold the night-vision scope up to your eye and you can see in the dark as long as you hold the scope up to your eye. You cannot fight while doing so.

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Awwwwwwwww!

You see a basket in the middle of the field. No people are around, but a small hedgehog guards the basket. The little animal will not allow anyone to open the basket. It defends itself vigorously with teeth and spikes. If speak with animals or a similar effect is cast on the hedgehog, it will tell the caster that it has sworn an oath to a forest-spirit to guard the contents of the basket with its life. It does not know what is in the basket.

What is in the basket? Roll 1d4…

1) A golden hedgehog that is the exact size and shape of the guard hedgehog. It is worth 300 gp. If melted down or broken, the guard hedgehog dies. You monster.

2) A crown of laurels that allows the wearer to summon vines out of nowhere to entangle one creature for 1d4 rounds 3/day.

3) 17 potions of waterbreathing. The vials are shaped like mermaids and are filled with tiny fish eggs floating in a salty purple liquid.

4) The Axe of the Forest. This simple, unadorned woodcutter’s axe functions as a +1 battleaxe normally, but while in a forest, it becomes a +3 battleaxe that causes the blood that is shed from its might swings to turn into saplings. Also, while in a forest, the wielder always receives positive reaction rolls from dryads, nymphs, and woodland fey.

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The Difference Between An Ongoing Game & A One-Time Game

Lately, I have been thinking about what makes a good ongoing game vs a good one-time game. I think that the two require two slightly different mindsets from the players and the GM. First, some definitions*:

An ongoing game is meant to meet for several sessions with over-arching goals, continuous plots, and characters (if they survive!). There is continuity from when session 1 ends and session 2 begins. Most games that meet in homes or at game stores would fall in this category.

A one-time game is only meant to be for a single session. That’s it. Convention games fall under this heading as to games when friends from far off come into town to visit. The plot, characters, etc may not ever be used again, even if they survive the adventure.

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Conventions are great for one-time games. I intend to be at NTRPG Con 2018 and to run a table!

An ongoing game should have a lot of flexibility for the players to explore and get into all kinds of trouble. I know the term “sandbox” gets thrown around a lot, but it is the perfect word to use. Over time the players will explore the area and work out their own goals. Maybe they just want to clear a big ol’ dungeon or maybe they want to start their own kingdom by clearing the land of monsters. A GM in an ongoing game should have the ability to be flexible enough to accommodate the goals of the player. Do NOT put the players on a railroad (unless their actions have put them in an inescapable situation). The sandbox should be large enough for the players to explore. The players have the responsibility of respecting the edges of the sandbox.

In the ongoing game, some individual sessions might be “boring”, but utterly critical for the overall continuation of the game. If a session just contains resting, buying equipment, hiring henchmen, etc, it may not be an action-packed session that will be remembered in the annals of RPG history, but it is still important for everything that follows. In the next session, you might be glad that the player controlling Cohn Jarter the Conflict-Dude took the time to double-check the number of torches the party had and then bought a few extra to light the way in dark places.

In a one-time game, every second counts. This is not to say that you can waste time willy-nilly in an ongoing game, just that in one-time games, time is even absolutely critical. There is no “next session” if the players don’t open the big important dungeon door by 8:00 pm on Saturday night. In an ongoing game, it is not an issue if the players don’t open that door. You can just pick up the game in front of the door next time. However, in the one-time game, there is no next time. The GM has to have a tightly focused game that can realistically be done in the allotted time, or at least concluded somewhat satisfactorily. The players should take the game somewhat seriously and not waste time on frivolous nonsense. They should accept the situation that they are placed in and not make a fuss about it. If the GM says that the party was captured by orcs when the adventure begins, just roll with it. Mild railroading is acceptable in a one-time game, with emphasis on the “mild”. The GM can help by having plenty of equipment pre-bought for the party or maybe being a little looser with some of the supply rules**.

When planning a game or joining a game, be sure to know what you are getting into and act appropriately.


* It may seem silly to define these terms, but I have had people not understand what I meant when I said a “one-time game”.

** Player: “How many torches do I have?”
GM: “You spent X gold on torches, you have enough torches for this session.”

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!

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?