Saturday, December 20, 2014

Doomtown: The Town has Changed

I was one of the "unfortunates" that did not start playing Doomtown until AEG put out the Boot Hill edition, but I feel in love with the game immediately.

Doomtown had everything I loved in a game: Cowboys, Indians, spellcasters, mad scientists, zombies, magic items, cops, robbers, robber barons, pirates, priests, evil cultists, was all just so jam-packed with awesome!

I spent a lot of money, then I became a part of the demo team for AEG (Bounty Hunter was the title at the time).  Then went on to the 7th Sea TCG/CCG...then to Warlord...then AEG stopped making Doomtown, and my sad face appeared.

Now, years later, Doomtown is back, and better than ever!

Doomtown: Reloaded Base Set
Faster, more aggressive play means you cannot "turtle-up" at home until you are reduced to a straight flush (the most common degeneration I saw locally).  Interestingly, this means that decks are usually geared towards just a few values and pull Full House, 4 of a Kind or 5 of a Kind.

The old cards are not completely compatible with the new cards, although you can play them against each other, the older decks will have more durability after the first 1-2 rounds.

Reading through the design goals that AEG posted on their website really brought me back into the game.  With a focus on shootouts and card abilities to enhance gameplay, getting into a shootout is the norm, many times on the first round, almost always on the second.

While a 2-player game can be super-fast (5-10 minutes) multiplayer is still where it is at for a long game.

The Factions have changed a little.

The Law Dogs are still around, now under the direction of Sheriff Dave Montreal.
The Blackjacks have been replaced by The Sloane Gang.
Sweetrock is gone, and the Morgan Cattle Company is now the big money-maker/deed slinger.
The Whately's are gone, but not to worry, the circus is in town and the Fourth Ring is full of Hucksters and abomitions, just waiting to show the freakiness.

Starting with just the four Factions gives enough variety to the game without getting too crazy, the original did the same, but by the time Boot Hill came out, there were 9 Factions in play.

This is not to say that AEG is not planning any new Factions, because they are, but they also realize that with fewer factions the game, and expansions, will not destroy the balance of the game.

Most of the rules have not changed, Lowball, Shootout Hands, movement rules, shoppin', skill pulls, have all stayed the same, Shootout Resolutions have changed dramatically.

Instead of Acing a number of dudes to cover the difference in hands you now suffer "Casualties."  For each rank difference you suffer 1 Casualty.  Discarding a Dude in the Shootout covers 1, Acing covers 2; special note: Harrowed Dudes go home booted to cover 1, discard to cover 2 and Ace to cover 3!

Also, instead of Acing the gear on dudes that go to boot hill, the gear is discarded, allowing you to play it later, of course, this does hinder the old deck-building style in some serious ways.

Currently, as far as product goes, there is the Base Set and a single "Saddlebag" (expansion), a complete collection will run about $50 or so, although I recommend 2 Base Sets since each comes with 2 of each card.  The Saddlebags come with a complete playset (4 of each card) and cost about $10.00, the next Saddlebag comes out in January 2015, you can bet on me buying it!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

SAT D&D Lost Mine of Phandelver ptIII

Tonights session went very well, with 3 of the 4 characters leveling.

The Paladin, Cleric and Ranger are trying very hard to convert the Half-Elf (Drow) Rogue to convert, but she seems bound and determined to hone her skills at killing.

The PCs have started the investigation of the Redbrand hideout, funny enough, they are not searching anything yet, lol.

They have missed so much stuff...

The Rogue has her own special move, jump on the opponents head and start stabbing. EVERY time she does this she rolls 18+ to hit on the grapple, then 16+ to attack (those are the actual die rolls...), so now the Ranger is copying her, LOL.

<spoilers here>

The Rogue found the pit trap, the hard way, the Paladin and Ranger both took the side ledges, with the Fighter almost falling into the pit.

The Cleric just jumped it, LOL, seemed like the first roll she made since the beginning that actually succeeded!

As far as investigation is concerned, they cleared the back room by the cistern in room 1, leaving one of the bad guys tied to the bunk, and killed the skeletons.

Next session they should be able to finish the dungeon, or at least face the Nothic and the Goblins.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

SAT D&D Lost Mine of Phandelver pt II

Second session of The Lost Mine of Phandelver, still in awe that people are finding this hard, yes, I do provide some insight to my players; this is the first game my wife has played since 2004 or so, and the first game for the 3 younger players (ages 10, 12 and 14).

Having a great amount of fun, I believe I will be picking up Hoard of the Dragon Queen and Rise of Tiamat also.

Synopsis (with vague spoilers) follows...

Continuing where we left off, the PCs were able to sneak up to the next cave, wherein there were 3 Goblins.

The cave with the twin pools went quickly, Ranger taking down one of the Goblins and the Rogue taking down another, before the 3rd one could run and warn Klarg, he was dead also.

And "Nubs," as he had been named by the party, was dispatched here also.

Charging into the next room, the party finally met Klarg.

The goblins and wolf charged forward attacking the Paladin and Rogue, Klargs javelin barely missing the Paladin.

The Ranger took her first shot at Klarg, who then charged in as one of the Goblins attacking the Rogue fell, Klarg killing the other with a surprising fail.  Through acrobatic skill the Rogue leaped atop his shoulders and plunged her dagger into his neck, ending his reign of banditry, and garnering much respect from her comrades.

The wolf followed quickly, before it had a chance to run.

From there, the group went down to the last cavern, and showing tactical skill beyond their years, sent the rogue up ahead to scout.

After reporting back, it was decided that the two elves would take shots at the goblins and then the Paladin would charge in.

A killing blow to the leader from the rogue, and another to a normal goblin from the ranger, followed by a charge and kill by the Paladin, and finally a Guiding Bolt from the Cleric, left a mere 2 goblin survivors at the end of the first combat round.

They surrendered and were taken prisoner.

At this point, the party freed Sildar, loaded up the crates and treasure, and headed off to Phandalin, delivering their goods, turning in the goblins for a bounty, and returning the missing goods to the other service in town.

They have heard a few rumors regarding the Redbrands and the Black Spider, next week will be the next morning, their first morning in Phandalin.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

SAT D&D: Lost Mine of Phandelver pt I

Started running Lost Mine of Phandelver from the D&D Starter Set.

(BEWARE: There will be spoilers)

The group consists of:

  • Raven Lawhonor, Human 2nd lvl Cleric (Life) - my wife
  • Wolf, Half-Drow 2nd lvl Rogue - my 10yr old daughter
  • Laora, Wood Elf 2nd lvl Ranger - my 12yr old daughter
  • Aragorn, Human 1st lvl Paladin - my friends 14yr old son

First encounter was pretty easy, as soon as they came upon the dead horses the Rogue slipped into the woods while the Paladin walked forward.

The Rogue was able to sneak attack 1 of the Goblins, the Paladin took out the other two.

(I had lowered the number of Goblins due to number of players and player lack of experience, I will not make that mistake again, LOL)

Seems like the main encounter people talk about online is the 2 Goblin guards outside the cave entrance.  Lots of death and TPK stories in regards to this encounter.

Except for this group.

The Rogue snuck up on them, killed one, and cut off the other one's hand (called shot, nat20, total of 26; Damage of 15).  The party then bandaged up the Goblin to staunch the bleeding, tied his elbows behind his back, and are making him guide them through the caves to find Gundren and Sildar.

The Ranger was able to calm the wolves (big surprise there, lol), and both the Ranger and Rogue spotted the Goblin on the bridge - who was promptly killed by the Rangers arrow as he tried to run in order to sound the alarm and start the flooding.

Had to cut it there due to time constraints, and next week, if everything goes well, they will encounter Klarg and the Goblins in the twin pool cave, as they are making the Goblin take them to the boss...

Sunday, October 5, 2014

GM Notes: D&D Encounter Building

Okay, getting very used to the system, running a game on Friday and Saturday nights.

During the last couple of sessions I have come to realize that the Encounter Building system from the basic rules just does not seem right to me.

For the rules, reference the DM basic rules pdf.

According to that document, the 30 Skeletons, 3 Spectres and 2 Wights the Friday night group is up against is going to slaughter them...halfway through the battle and it is a tough fight, but the PCs are holding their own, next session will finish the battle and we will see what happens.

Overall, at this point I see them winning, minimal losses.

Breaking it down, the encounter building XP, according to the above document, would be 14,000, 35 times the deadly encounter XP allotment.  Without the multiplier of x4 (for "horde"), the total XP would only be 3,500; still a "Deadly" encounter.

But if you look at it more in line with the way things were normally done in 1st/2nd edition, we get a little idea.

1st/2nd edition, hereafter AD&D, the method I used was total party level (TPL) = approx total HD of encounter with single creatures no more than 2-3 HD higher than highest level PC.

The TPL of the current group is 17.  When I total up the CR of all the creatures involved in the battle we get 6 (2 Wights, CR3) + 7.5 (30 Skeletons, CR1/4) + 3 (3 Spectres, CR1) = 16.5 Total CR.

That seems about right if you look at the old way of doing things.

For comparison, tonights game had two encounters, the first with TPL of 4 (2nd lvl PC + 2 1st lvl PCs) vs a Carrion Crawler (CR2).  PCs won with a decent battle.

The second encounter was TPL 2 (2 1st level PCs) vs 4 Cockatrice (total CR2), and the battle was perfect challenge for the 1st lvl Rogue and Ranger.

Both encounters tonight were straight up fights, nothing fancy.

The encounter XP for tonight's first battle, according to the DM Basic Rules, would have been 450, a "Deadly" encounter, for the second battle it would have been 400 XP (200 total XP x2 for 4 creatures), still double the "Deadly" level for 2 1st level characters.

I can argue that the Friday night group is way more experienced, used tactical considerations (cover, for example) and had the benefit of 2 Wizards, a Cleric, and some healing potions.

But tonight's group consisted of my wife (who has not played in years), my 12 yr old (2nd time playing an RPG) and my 10 yr old (also 2nd time playing an RPG).  They did not use cover, or disengage options to move to long range, they stood and fought for both encounters; classes being Cleric, Rogue and Ranger; and they were able to mop up pretty well.

For the forseeable future, I will be using the old method of creating encounters, I will share my results here, stay tuned...

Monday, September 15, 2014

Attitudes in Gaming: DM/GM Responsibility

I have noticed an interesting attitude from some gamers, that the GM of the game is there to entertain the players and make sure they have a good time...even if it means the GM does not.

Role-Playing Games are just that, GAMES.

Games are a form of play, and therefore meant to be fun, for everybody involved, the GM included.

If a GM wants to run a horror game, and the players want to play a comedy game, then it should not be up to the GM to change their style of play to fit their players if they will not have fun running a comedy.

This does lead to only a few choices

  • The GM can run the comedy game and not have fun
  • The GM can run the horror game and not have fun because the players are not having fun
  • The GM can find other players
  • The players can find another GM

The GM decides the story elements, works constantly on encounters, treasure/loot, NPCs, voices and making sure there is enough paper, books, dice and pencils for the players in case someone forgets something.

From my players I expect them to show up on time, voice any major concerns they may have, and participate in the game.

As a player, I expect the GM to fairly interpret the rules of the game, and not obviously railroad the players into something.

I do not feel it is any single persons job to make sure that everyone at the table is entertained, or that the story is good, I feel it is the responsibility of every person at that table to encourage the fun, in the spirit it is presented in.

As a GM, I spend most of my free time working on encounters that will be challenging, fun and vaguely survivable, researching rules and making sure everything is ready for the next session.

Mapping, writing descriptions, creating NPCs, writing plot points, reviewing previous notes to tie things together, going over character sheets to make sure the PCs have the appropriate skills, changing encounters because PCs do not have the appropriate skills, etc.

On top of that, we are the primary focus of the players.  We are expected to entertain, use funny voices, provide pacing and fair rule judgments as well as not (obviously) railroad our players.

Over the past few years I have seen more and more people state that it is the GMs "job" to provide entertainment.


This is not my "job."  This is my hobby.  This is (supposed to be) my fun time.

GMs are not slaves to the players to accommodate their every whim and fancy.  GMs are players who do not get to kill the big bad.  GMs are players who do not get to grow a personality from a bunch of mere stats on paper.  GMs do not get to tell the glorious tales of how their character, alone and afraid, overcame the odds and became a hero.

No.  GMs get to be beaten down and looted, tricked and insulted, left to die or banished back to the bowels of hell from which they came to destroy the world they created.

I am a GM, a referee, not a player.  Not your personal RPG slave or lackey.

I posit that the players are there to entertain each other, but within the confines of the rules set forth by the GM.

The GM gets to use the information they have been working on, the players get to have fun overcoming challenges, and the game goes on.

If you want someone to entertain you, without doing anything yourself, go to a comedy club, or watch TV...but that is not what RPGs are about.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

GM Notes: Checking the Poles in Dungeons & Dragons

Lately there have been many discussions on Alignment in the various groups that I attend, facebook, tabletop and general talk with other gamers.

Hitler, Stalin and Mao
At some point in discussing the Alignment system of D&D (all incarnations) someone pipes in about how <insert Hitler, Mao, Stalin, etc> could be viewed as Lawful Good, and then speaks about how they saw themselves and how they thought or felt like they were doing the right thing, etc

This is rubbish.

In D&D, Alignment is more than just how you view what you do.  It is a manifestation of cosmic forces.  Lawful, Chaotic, Good and Evil are present in the universe and represent absolutes.

A Lawful character, or creature, believes in order and fights against the forces of Chaos.  Likewise, a Good character or creature, believes in others over self and fights against the forces of Evil.

Notice the use of capital letters.  There is a difference here between good and Good, lawful and Lawful, they are pronouns, they are named Forces that manifest in the universe at large.

I can go on for lengths of time regarding how the Empire from Star Wars was a Lawful Good society, sometimes it can be fun to argue that, but everytime I do, I have to admit to myself that it is complete and utter balderdash.

Yes, the Empire brought about Order, yes, that makes them Lawful.  But the Emperor, and Vader, were Evil.  They were power hungry despots that had not a care in the world for who they destroyed, as long as they were on top.

The Rebellion, honestly, was also Lawful.  They believed in Order, but they were also founded on principles of Good.  Fair people, and fair laws, must be the rule, and differences should be handled with discussion and compromise.

Again, these are universal, cosmic, definitions.  Not definitions imposed by a single person, their friends/enemies, or society.

At the basic level, a lawful person obeys the laws of the land, a Lawful person instinctively strives towards order and away from Chaos without really understanding, or even caring, why, it is "right" to them while Chaos is just fundamentally "wrong," even alien in their thinking.

Classic Good vs Evil
In the real world, Evil may not realize it is evil, but in the fantasy world of Dungeons & Dragons, it knows what it is, it embraces what it is, in order to act good, it has to force itself.  And the same goes for Good, Lawful and Chaotic also.

One of the major aspects that separate Fantasy from other genre is the fact that these cosmic forces are there in the world, tangible, definitive and absolute.  Evil creatures destroy because they are Evil, Good creatures protect others, because they are Good.  There needs to be no other reason.

Science Fiction, and our real world, have come to view good and evil as merely gray areas instead of the black and white that is presented in the Fantasy genre.  Evil is a term used by the other side that believes itself to be Good, and the other side feels exactly the same.  Both sides cannot be Good, one side has to be Evil, or both sides have to be Evil, because if both sides were Good, there would be no conflict.

As someone who goes from game to game, genre to genre, I get where things can become clouded and grey-areas may pop up.  But there is a huge difference in the fantasy genre were "Humans are Evil says the Orc from his perspective" and "Orcs are Evil, because that is their cosmic alignment."

I am speaking in generalizations, not ALL Orcs are Evil, not ALL Dwarves are Lawful, those that stray from their racial alignment are outcasts (like Drizz't from R.A. Salvatore's novels), and will invariably end up killed by their own kind, exiled, or self-outcast from their race.

I feel like I am starting to ramble and type ad nausea at this point, so I will end it here.

For those that skipped to the end for the final statement:  Law, Chaos, Good and Evil are presented as cosmic absolutes in the game Dungeons & Dragons.  They are black and white, there are no "grey areas."

Last thought:  "What about Neutrals?"

They just have not picked a side yet.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

RPGaDay 20: RPG Will Still Play in 20 Years Time...

I started with Dungeons and Dragons back in the late 70s/early 80s, and I still play it after approximately 35 years.

SLA Industries I started playing in 1993/1994, and still regularly play after 20 years.

Those two games are obvious.

The only game I have actually stopped playing (as in, I turn down invitations to play) has been the World of Darkness setting from White Wolf.  After 3rd edition was released, I just did not want to play anymore, it bored me.

But I still play Star Frontiers, Talislanta and a host of other games when I get the chance.  Narrowing the selection to just one RPG is an impossibility, and the list of games I have no interest in playing is to long to list.

If you love a game, keep playing it!
If you like a game, play it sometimes.

That is what it boils down to for me, and I have no intention of ever stopping my RPG hobby.

Will have to take a look back on this in 20 years, and see what games I am still playing at that time.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

RPGaDay 19: Favorite Published Adventure

Since I do not (normally) use published adventures, I cannot provide a favorite, but I will talk about some of the ones I have read through, or used for inspiration.

  • Ilse of Dread - an oldie but goodie.  One of the first modules I owned.  A D&D "Jurrassic Park" style adventure.  If I remember correctly we were halfway across the island before we were killed by Rakshasa.
  • Castle Greyhawk - interesting adventure, the party can easily become side-tracked.  There are some serious traps in this one from my recollection.
  • Keep on the Borderlands - how can one not list this one?  Most of us older players have been through the goblin caves, maybe even died once or twice on this one.
  • Desert of Desolation series - LOVE IT!  Especially the scorpion-man battle!

Most of my module inspiration comes from the news, or a song, something I want to introduce, or something going on that I am thinking of, sometimes it changes mid-story arc in order to fit in with what the PCs are doing.

For example, I started working on a BPN (adventure/mission) for SLA Industries that would have the PCs tracking down a civilian that was taking advantage of the welfare system, essentially tripling his benefits.

During this time there was something in the news regarding people having multiple lifeline cellphones, people taking advantage of disability claims and also people getting more food benefits than they should because they were not declaring their incomes properly.

When the Ravenloft boxed set was released and the Loupe Garou detailed, I took that opportunity to introduce my players to the setting.  It started off simply enough, find out what is killing the local cattle...with fire.

The bad guy was a Loupe Garou/Wizard that was trying to find a way into Ravenloft to become a lord of a domain.  He succeeded in opening the portal and the brave heroes charged in after him.  Was a great amount of fun, and introduced the players to Ravenloft in a "not go against Strahd" way.

Another SLA Industries campaign I based the BPNs and downtime stories on Duran Duran's Greatest Hits album.  That was a super fun campaign, one of the longest I have had the chance to run.

Basically, you can find inspiration for your games anywhere, as long as you keep an eye out.  We spend so much time driving from one place to another, or walking, or taking a bus, whatever, why not use that time to pick out interesting people or situations and turn them into stories for the games we play?

Have fun and game on!

Monday, August 18, 2014

RPGaDay 18: Favorite Game System

There are many answers to this question, depending on what type of game I am running.

Heroic action/adventure or Space Opera/Science Fantasy goes to WEGd6, now freely available online.

Perfect for that Star Wars game you are wanting to run, or that 1920s-1940s against the Nazi's game.  Also works extremely well with a lost world type of setting set in the jungle.

Sword and Sorcery definitely goes to the Talislanta system for its simplicity and magic system.

The ease of creating spells, the elegance of the system...absolutely adore it.  I have been using the Talislanta system for all of my fantasy games since the release of 3rd edition D&D.

SLA Industries has a system that I have always found worked perfectly for the game itself, and I have always felt the same in regards to D&D, AD&D and now D&D 5th edition.

I am of the persuasion that the system has to fit the setting.  SLA Industries and the 3 versions of D&D I like have systems that fit those settings, and no other system is going to work.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

RPGaDay 17: Funniest Game You Have Ever Played

Tales from the Floating Vagabond.  Hands down.

From the character choices to the setting everything is a fun read, and a good time playing.

I was only able to play it one or two times, but I remember the crazy skill names, races and some of the things we were able to pull off.
Tales from the Floating Vagabond

Swinging into combat, middle of a desert (scrub plain?) from a rope, using my hair as a weapon, retrieving an important key from between the rhinoman's armored much crazy goodness there.

I do not tend towards comedy games, but Tales from the Floating Vagabond is one that I would love to get my hands on, just for reading purposes.

Also, Toon would be a fun read.  Another game I only had a single chance to play in.  All I really remember is that I was playing a weasel that was obsessed with chickens.  I think it gave me brain damage...

Fairy Meat is another fun read, although I have never had the opportunity to play it.  If you can find it, read it.  It will change how you look at fairies forever...

Saturday, August 16, 2014

RPGaDay 16: Game You Wish You Owned

Interesting question, with different answers depending on context.  Game I wish I owned the rights to, or game I do not have that I wish I did?

Definitely not sure about the first context.  While there are games I am completely inspired to write for, owning the games themselves would be problematic.  For one, I do not have the ability, or time, to devote to owning a games IP and keep it going.  On another note, my biggest gamer love is SLA Industries, and while I have a ton of ideas for it, the game has a particular story, and that story belongs to Dave Allsop, the originator of the setting.

For the second interpretation of the question, there are many games that I have sold or given away that I wish I still had.

7th Sea, Deadlands, Shadowrun, and many others.

At this moment in time, I want the D&D 5th edition books.  I absolutely love what they have done with the system.  The changes bring the game into the current age and at the same time take you back to the Basic through 2nd edition AD&D feel of the game.  Back to the heart of Role-Playing, classes, levels and dungeon delving.

To be completely honest, I am mostly unaware of games on the market outside of the few that I have, and those are mostly out of print.

For the games I am aware of, that I do not have, Iron Kingdoms, Victoriana and Rocket Age all look like something I could sink my teeth into.  Somewhere out there, is a game based off of old 70s movies that I want to get my hands on also.

Feel free to comment with a game I might want to check out.

Friday, August 15, 2014

RPGaDay 15: Favorite Convention Game

This is going to be super-biased, the reason being, I have only played 3 games at a conventions: Doomtown CCG, some LARP, and Blue Planet.

Since this is all about RPGs, that leaves the post to Blue Planet by default.

Up until that time I had been to Archon many times, and stayed out of the game room as a participant.  I had only been in there to browse, playing most of the games in the hospitality or open gaming areas with people I already knew.

I had always looked over the game sheets, due to arrival time at the convention everything that I wanted to play had already been filled.

At this particular con a few of us decided to get into a game together, and lo and behold, BLUE PLANET!  One of my friends had the book and we had played it once or twice, he wanted to see how other people ran it.

So we signed up.

And were greeted at the table by one of the writers.

A quick perusal of the rules and character sheets and we were ready to go.  Outlaws caught in media res stealing something from a transport.  Wild West style on a water planet.

More fun than a barrel of monkeys, and ending with two of us in a standoff against the GEO, the police.

Standing inside the door to our transport, light flooding the compartment from the spotlight focused on our door, all it took was a look, no words spoken.

I went for the spolight, he went for the ground troops, and both of us went out in a blaze of glory!

The GM, Jeffrey Barber, just looked at us.  "I have run this adventure many times, nobody, NOBODY stood up to the GEO!"

Good times had by all.  Yes, it was a TPK-1 day, but it was a lot of fun.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

RPGaDay 14: Best Convention Purchase

I am going off-topic with this one, as I cannot remember my convention purchases, and will instead talk about my favorite convention.

I have only been to two gaming conventions: WindyCon in Chicago (once) and Archon in Collinsville IL (multiple times).

Obviously, Archon is going to be the focus.

Prior to the release of d20, Archon was a bastion of old and new RPGs, the dealer room was amazing.  All those games you wish you had purchased before they went out of print seemed to be there.  Along with costume additions, knick-knacks, miniatures and just fun stuff.

Played my first game of Blue Planet there, had a blast with the AEG staff, played in a DoomTown CCG tournament, and spent a great deal of time talking to other Role-Players and meeting new people.

One year we spent going from panel to panel, the most memorable one was with Ben Bova.  A delightful hour of listening to a scientist speak on such wonderful topics like the Star Wars Program, how lasers really work, Electromagnetic Pulses and their large scale effects, and some US history as it pertained to Los Alamos.

That was the same year that George Takei was visiting, made a great present for my Trek fan mother-in-law and wife.

Since 2004 I have missed every Archon.  A sad thing indeed.  Would love to go again, but family, work and lack of disposable income for that endeavor conspire against me.

Someday, Archon, I will return!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

RPGaDay 13: Most Memorable Character Death

Over the years there have been untold amounts of character deaths, so many that focusing on a single event is hard to do.

There was the Thief in Ravenloft that sacrificed himself for his Paladin friend so the Paladin and his betrothed could escape.

There was the Paladin being killed by his betrothed shortly after because he went berserk when his friend died, killing off the foe in Ravenloft, and then, beset by grief attempted suicide, multiple times.  The Paladin thought he had lost his Paladinhood and was trying to commit suicide (he had not, his powers had faded a bit because he was in Ravenloft, unfortunately, with attempting suicide he did lose his Paladinhood).

There was the 12yr old boy in SLA Industries that sacrificed himself so his friends from the orphanage could live.  (There were other ways out.)

In a D&D game the PCs threw a lavish funeral for Timmy.  An NPC boy of 13 who wanted to be a fighter and protect his village, only to be killed when the village was set upon by a pack of werewolves, leading the party into a revenge-war vs the werewolf pack.

One time, in a Vampire LARP the following conversation took place:
     Me:  Hey man, I am sorry I diablerized your quadriplegic character
     Him:  My character wasn't a quadriplegic...
     Me: He was when I diablerized him.

Over the past 30 years, there have been so many, lol.  No, you do not hear about my characters dying, because I mostly GM.

The first character I ever played, he died, viciously choked to death, by the DM character that was traveling with us, because the DM did not want me playing (I was 9 or 10 IIRC).

There seems to be a point, where if I think hard enough, I can remember each and every death in the games I have run.  I try to make the characters significant enough that if they die, we can remember why they died.

Some were just bad decisions, like trying to cross the street during a firefight.  Some were bad luck, following a van full of terrorists on a hover board.

All were memorable in some way.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

RPGaDay12: Old RPG Still Read/Play

Easy question.

Dungeons and Dragons, Talislanta, Star Frontiers, Star Wars (WEGd6), Torg, StarAce, Chill, Dark Conspiracy, Kult, Macho Women With Guns...

Okay, easy question, hard to answer.

I read all of the games I own, they are a constant source of inspiration for me.  Sometimes I will use them as source material for an adventure/session, or at least for the basic plot.

Some of my craziest ideas come from mixing games together.  For example, Keep on the Borderlands from D&D becomes a BPN in SLA Industries to remove gangers from an area of Downtown.  The Keep itself is the local SHIVER waystation.  The same module can be used in Talislanta.  The Keep is one of the outposts in the Wilderlands and you are removing a Raknid infestation.

For me, a RPG book has never been a game, it has been a supplement for whatever game I am running.

Monday, August 11, 2014

RPGaDay11: Weirdest RPG Owned

This is going to be a tie, multiple game tie.

  • Talislanta - completely not in line with traditional fantasy
  • Asylum - you play a 'patient' in a city of patients...
  • Hunter Planet - PC's are aliens on the planet 'Dirt,' hunting 'hoomans' and looting Mars bars
  • Puppetland - awesome game, btw, you play a puppet.  Hand puppet, finger puppet, shadow puppet, and marionette, and try to live in a world where Punch and Judy are real.  Judy leads the rebellion against the evil Punch, who has killed the Maker...

Talislanta I recommend highly.  Even if the setting is not to your liking, the system is elegant and quick.  As a bonus, the creator of the game has put up every published (and some unpublished) books* for free download on the Talislanta website, see the link above.

*There are a few books that were published and are non-canon, they are not on the website but can be easily found on ebay for a decent price.

Asylum is a fun read, and if you run any type of urban horror game is a great resource for ideas.  The use of colored marbles is a bit odd, but fun, easily modified to using dice.  Drugs and bullets are used as currency, and it quickly devolves into a psychotic craziness as everyone starts to have episodes of whatever psychosis they have.

Hunter was okay.  I am not a big fan of comedy games, especially ones that seem to want people to go over the top with "the funny."  I will probably never run it again, but it was a fun one-shot.

Puppetland is just an awesome concept.  Never ran it, never played it, but the game is written very well, John Tynes did an excellent job, check out the link above for some Puppetland wholesomeness!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

RPGaDay10: Favorite Tie-In Novel/Game Fiction

I love the fiction in most games, it seems to add a quick break while reading the rules and at the same time provides a look into the vision that the creators of the game have for it.

Vampire, SLA Industries, Star Wars (WEG) and Talislanta would not be the games they are without the fiction in the pages of the books.

As far as novels go, I did really enjoy the Dark Elf and Icewindale trilogies from RA Salvatore.  Those were, however, the only truly gaming related fiction I ever read.

I read the Xanth books, the Shannara series, the Complete Book of Swords and many other non-game related books that have a distinct effect on the games I run, but they do not qualify for the tie-in.

While I feel that the fiction is important, I do prefer either the flash fiction or the short stories in the gaming books over a full-blown novel.  My attention is on the game, my players and my NPCs and I try to stay focused on that.  Also, I would much rather produce ideas from the books themselves than novels related to the game.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

RPGaDay9: Favorite Die/Dice Set

With multiple dice around, and various games requiring different types, I still find myself grabbing d10s and d6s for just about everything.

Goes to figure, my 3 favorite systems are WEGd6, SLA Industries (2d10) and Talislanta (d20).

Different Dice
I used to have a sizable collection of dice, and when Vampire was released I actually bought $10.00 worth of translucent orange d10s.

Over the years they have mostly disappeared, but I still have a few left.

My current favorites are my blue marblized d20, my black/silver marblized d10s and my white/black pip d6s (simple, easy to read, and cheap!).

My all time favorite dice: My Dice.

I cannot stand using other peoples dice.  It has nothing to do with any type of superstition, or germs, or anything like that.  I just like to bring my own dice.  I feel it is my responsibility as a player/GM to come prepared to the game.

This includes: pencil, paper, book (if possible) and, above all, dice.

I also expect the same from my players/GMs.  I hate having to loan out dice, that is why so many of my dice have gone missing over the years.

New players are an exception, I expect to provide them with anything they need to play.  If they decide to continue with RPGs, they can get their own dice at that time.

Friday, August 8, 2014

RPGaDay8: Favorite Character

I do not have one.

I suffer from two major drawbacks in this area: 1) all of my characters are my favorites, 2) I used to move around a lot, and due to the constant relocation I never really had time to develop a character.

When I finally did settle down in one place, I became an almost permanent GM.  There have been a few characters that I enjoyed playing, even just enjoying character creation, but when it comes to blows, my love for the character always stemmed from the quality of my GM.

Now, I have a favorite character for each player I have had.

Bob - Jimmy "The Squid": a grifter in a Noir LARP that I ran for a month or so.  He introduced so many plotlines just by trying to keep the other players from killing him that I made him carry around a piece of paper and a pen.  "What Jimmy the Squid don't know, he makes up!"

PeterAmthor - Hate: Squad leader for a SLA Industries group I ran. Good ideas, kept the group in line and focused at all times.  Great background, always working towards revenge on the Skin Trade for taking his little sister.  Had long term goals, got the job done, and would risk it all to make sure that the right thing was done.

SiokoTi - Don McGuiness: rough and tumble Frother KMS from Hate's squad.  Completely loony.  Never paid attention, like a meth addict with ADHD and a futuristic scythe.

Jason P - Roger "I'm a badass" Halton: throughout the entire time Jason played this character, the character only hit running speed twice.

Those are the big ones off the top of my head.  There are plenty more but I cannot remember the names of the characters.  A half-dragon (basically, he was a human raised by a dragon) who was not only willing to use a scroll that forced the Elven population of the planet to save vs death, including a party member, but he was also the type to cast directly from his spellbook if the situation even slightly warranted.  Blessed dice allowed him to create a similacrum of his father (a blue dragon), which he used as a mount.

I have been routinely blessed with great players, their characters are my real favorites.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

RPGaDay7: Most "Intellectual" Game Owned

Okay, I have to admit, this one has me stumped.

Any game can be run as an "Intellectual" game.

"Intellectual" defined as: characters play investigative, brainy types, I would have to say Chill or Call of Cthulhu.

"Intellectual" defined as: psychological or cerebral...probably SLA Industries, because that is how I run it.  Skirting the gunbunny and going crazy with supernatural, psychological and just plain weird events.

Now, if you define "Intellectual" as: you are required to be a subgenius to play it, I would have to go with Space Opera.

Still, I prefer to run all of my games on a more intellectual/psychological level than just "kill things and take their loot."  That is fun, do not mistake my words, I love a good dungeon crawl, but for me there is a need for it to be just a little more than that.

Traps, puzzles, strange goings on, those are all more important to me than killing a big bad and looting a magic item, I can do that in video games.

In that light, every game I have is an "Intellectual" game.  Even when running the fast-paced action adventure games like Star Wars or d6 Adventure I like to have a modicum of challenges that require the players to use their heads to get out.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

RPGaDay6: Favorite RPG I Never Get to Play

Talislanta. Hands down.

My fav Talislanta cover, 3rd edition
Matter of fact, one of my favorite settings, that I have only played one time, ever, since 1989.  With all the books being free online at, I would hope that somebody else would throw on the mantle and take us around the continent.

No clue what I would play, would be easier to list off the archetypes I would not want to play.  With over 100 different character archetypes in 4th edition, or the character generation system in 5th edition, I am absolutely sure that I would find something.

I love the system.  It is quick and simple, with plenty of room for gritty, horror, action/adventure or mystery play, but I am the only one to run it.

I have recently reached out to my gaming group to see if anyone else would like to run it, keeping my fingers crossed!

Talislanta, for those unfamiliar, is set in a world that has been ripped asunder (literally) by magical forces.  It has been 600 years since history was starting to be rewritten, and adventure abounds!

The game lends itself well to sword and sorcery, dungeon crawls, exploration, horror, mercantile and even comedy adventures without losing spirit of the game.

Talislanta ad, circa 1990
The tagline is "Still No Elves!"  A 20th anniversary shout out to the old ads in Shadis, White Wolf and Dragon magazines.

Talislanta was definitely a fore-runner in system elegance, with many of the systems mechanics showing directly in the d20 system from Wizards of the Coast.  No surprise when you look at the names that worked on 3rd and 4th edition and the names in Dungeons and Dragons 3.0 books.

System-wise, Talislanta easily ranks in the Top 5 of my Top 10 favorite games of all time.

If you have never checked it out, I highly recommend it.  Even if you decide that Talislanta is not your game, what you do find there is easily converted to other games.

I have used creatures from Talislanta in Star Frontiers, AD&D, Star Wars and SLA Industries, and each time, it was a wonderful experience.

If there is a drawback to the game, it is also its biggest feature: an alien setting without the normal fantasy races and structures that we are accustomed.  Highly detailed, the game itself is presented as both an authoritative work on an alien world, and a game system.

So much to do, it is easy to become lost.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

RPGaDay5: Most Old-School RPG owned

That, is a tough question.

Considering the first purchase I have made in approximately a full decade was the D&D 5th edition Starter Set, you could almost consider my entire collection "Old School."

The Bookshelf of Doom
In order to actually answer the question, I took time to sort my bookshelf by game.  Some books are currently missing.  In my car I have the SLA Industries HC MRB, Karma, Mort, Contract Directory and Cannibal Sector 1 books; along with the 4th edition Talislanta MRB.  Also included in the books currently in my car is Asylum, from Clockwork games.

The shelf is also devoid of any World of Darkness books.  First edition Vampire is in a 3 ring binder, along with Werewolf; the Werewolf Players Guide is in a box of stuff to get rid of.

Also missing is my Tales of the Jedi Companion, it was downstairs when the pictures were taken, and my 2nd edition Revised and Expanded Star Wars MRB is missing, that actually worries me.

There is also a box of boxed sets in my closet that I did not take the time to remove, because they will not fit on the shelves.

The oldest bits of my collection include: Space Opera (vol I and II), D&D red boxed set and Star Frontiers; all dated 1980.

A conundrum has produced itself...did I purchase Star Frontiers before James Bond?

The world may never know...

Monday, August 4, 2014

RPGaDay4: Most Recent RPG Purchase

With the release of Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition, I just could not resist picking up the starter box.  Not sure why, to be honest.

DnD Starter BoxAs well done as it is, there is not much in the box for me, except dice, I do like dice.

From the playtest I already have plenty of character sheets, and the basic rules are free for download at Wizards of the Coast.

With the purchase of the Starter Set you receive:

  • A rulebook covering character levels 1 through 5
  • 5 pregen characters with character sheets and background/role-playing information
  • 6 dice - d4, d6, d8, d10, d12 and d20

Fold out maps would have been nice, and it would have been a heck of a shoutout to ages past if the adventure module was done with the stiff cardstock cover, map on the inside.

Alas, that was not the case, but you can download map images here.

The set looks great to me, would have preferred a Greyhawk reboot, but Forgotten Realms is the popular one, and the company is there to make money, not to answer my every whim.

All-in-all, a good RPG purchase.

If you decide not to purchase the starter set, you can download it, minus adventure and dice, from Wizards of the Coast.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

RPGaDay3 2014: First RPG Purchased

As stated in a previous post, Dungeons and Dragons was given to me, so does not count as first RPG purchased in my book.

That brings up the grand possibility that the first one actually purchased was, again, James Bond 007!

Yes, the first game I game mastered was the first game I actually purchased.  Up until that point, I was merely a player.

I must have enjoyed it immensely, as I seldom play, most of my RPG experience from the time this game was purchased has been 'behind the screen.'

It needs to be said, at this point in history, the early 1980's, the Cold War was very real.  With my father being in the military at the time, we were painfully aware that if missiles were launched, we were a target.

This may have something to do with all of the kids on the military bases being huge James Bond fans.  We watched the movies, he was a hero to us the same as John Wayne.

We understood the need for people like James Bond in our reality, they kept the bad guys at bay.  But it was not some kind of Rambo kill them all setup.  Spies were classy, and smart, not to mention they had toys that made even Batman jealous.

In my mind, there has probably never been a more real RPG than the Victory Games James Bond 007.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

RPGaDay2 2014: First RPG GameMastered

I am not 100% sure about this, but the first game I actually remember GMing was James Bond 007.

Talk about a cool game!  Who does not want to be a secret agent with cool toys and a license to kill?

The introductory adventure is actually the Island of Dr No!  Rules for ranged combat, SCUBA diving, gambling and just all around being cool and sophisticated.

Looking back, there were definitely some strange things going on, system-wise, but the game really was fun.

Now, even though I still love the game, I cannot fathom running this for a group of people the way it sits.  As per the James Bond universe, there are only ever nine "00" agents.  These agents are usually solo, or working with SAS agents.  For a long time, there were only 2 or 3 of us playing at a time, so it was no big deal.  As I grew older, and found more gamers, running a game of JB007 became something of a problem.  Everyone wanted to be a "00" agent, but who can blame them?

I still have the same boxed set from way back when, and the Q Manual.  In the 90s I was able to pick up a copy of On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Thrilling Locations and For Your Information.

I still absolutely love this game.

Friday, August 1, 2014

RPGaDay1 2014: The First RPG I Played

Like many people, the first RPG I played was Dungeons and Dragons.

My grandmother bought it and sent it to my sister and I as a Christmas present one year.  It was a pretty red box.

1980 Cover
We read it, I barely understood it, but I wanted to play it.  My sister, being five years older than me, was of course, not interested in playing the game with her little brother.

Not too long afterward, we were visiting some friends in Alabama while my dad was going through some training.  These friends had a son close to my sisters age.  I was able to get a chance to play.

I died, horribly, because the DM did not want me playing because of my age.  I was 9 or 10, the DM was 16 or 17 and my sister was 15 or so.

Dirk the Dimwit was no more.

No deterrent for me, I ended up continuing to play when we were stationed in Arizona.  Met a few people at school and I fell in love with the game.

From there, everything snowballed.

Dungeons and Dragons, Twilight 2000, James Bond 007, Star Frontiers, you name it, we played it.  We converted our favorite TV shows and movies to the different game systems we were playing.  We even converted them all over to Dungeons and Dragons.

Then the big "Satanic Panic" happened.

Dungeons and Dragons was satanic, the lead figures had demons in them, you could hear them scream if you melted them, and various other misconceptions were laid upon me.

But James Bond, Star Frontier and Star Ace were absolutely fine.

At one point, I was in a boys home.  Dungeons and Dragons was not allowed, so we made up our own using the rules that I could remember off the top of my head.  I was a full-blown gamer at this point.

From there, things just kept moving.  I traveled further and further down the gaming path.  I have never looked back.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

#RPGaDay August 2014

David Chapman from Autocratik posted this idea on his blog.

I love it, and am going to be posting my share through August.

As my time is pretty crazy, I will be writing these early and scheduling them for publication on the appropriate day.

Seems like great fun, indeed!

Make sure you visit his blog to get the details and we will see how many people we can get involved in this!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

GM Notes: Dragons in the Dome

I was recently exposed to a review of the D&D 5th edition unboxing, and the biggest complaint the person had was in regards to the basic set not having enough monsters to last until the PHB or MM is released.  This triggered an inquiry, how many monsters do you really need?

So I started thinking about the games I usually run:
  • Talislanta: tons of beasties, but I mostly use the races as the badguys
  • D&D: lots of monsters, but I tend to only use a few
  • SLA Industries: Carriens, Carnivorous Pigs, Manchines...the occasional weird thing I make up or convert from somewhere else (occasional meaning approx once in 10 missions)
Then I started looking at games I used to run:
  • Vampire: Humans, Werewolves, Mages
  • Werewolf: Humans, Vampires, Mages, Werewolves, Spirits
  • Mage: Humans, Vampires, Werewolves, Robots, Demons
  • Blue Planet: the occasional Aborigine
  • Star Frontiers: Sathar, the occasional alien creature
Am I just slacking as a GM?

I remember running a game of D&D where the big bad was a werewolf, and there were a few zombies; in another campaign the baddies were all orcs, a couple of wolves and a bear.

Another campaign I ran took place almost exclusively, around 80% of the campaign, was inside the city walls of Greyhawk, and even outside the city walls I vaguely remember a goblin patrol; and another the only non-PC race badguys were some trolls and deep dwarves.

I guess what I am trying to say here is pretty simple, you do not need a ton of creatures to make a fun campaign.  Having 1000 different monsters available is not going to make a difference if you are only going to use 4 or 5 of them.

Also, it seems it would crowd the world.

Next time you create an adventure for your players, think about this: if the villain, or big bad, is not required to be a different monster, keep to something you already have.  If you really, really want to use a particular monster, think about the ecology of the creature and how it will fit into your world as a whole, if there is one, there are bound to be more.

Looking through various forums and adventure modules it seems to me that people will use what is available without thinking about using what they need.

Do you really need an Illithid at the head of a Saughin cult of the squid god?  Why not just use a regular Saughin, boost its power and give it some minor spell-casting ability?  Otherwise, you are having to not only fit the Saughin into your campaign world, but also the Illithid.

Just some thoughts and rambles, enjoy your game.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

GM Notes: Multiple GMs, Same World

As an experiment for our Friday night SLA Industries game, we have decided to rotate out GMs.  Here are what I see as the Pros and Cons of this format.

The Pros:

  • People who normally only GM get a chance to play
  • Players who have mission ideas get a chance to run
  • Nobody has to make new characters
  • One rule set to rule them all

The Cons:

  • Different strokes for different folks, world ideas
  • The players that GM find out some of the secret stuff regarding characters
  • Different "House Rules" per GM can cause confusion

The Pros are pretty self-explanatory, and obviously beneficial, so this post is going to focus on the Cons and ways to get around them, for us at least.

Different Strokes for Different Folks
Especially in a game like SLA Industries, this can cause some unintentional issues.  For example, a character that is approved under one GM may not be appropriate for another GMs game for one reason or another.

In the current game, a player has a PC that has a package (class) that another GM does not allow, therefore, when I am running the player is welcome to play that PC, but when the other GM is running he is not.

This can make for some very interesting events in the PCs lives.  For example, I run my SLA Industries game a little more low-tech than (at least) two of the other GMs.  PC cellphones are closer to the early to mid 1980s style of cellphone, while the other two GMs allow the PCs to have smartphones.

In the last session I ran, one of the PCs went to pull out his cellphone to take a picture.  The PC pulled out the cellphone...and then confusingly put it back, not knowing why he pulled it out in the first place.  This works perfectly with my campaign style.  Now, I will admit, when it was my turn to play I took pictures of just about everything with my cellphone, including sending in a picture of a fingerprint to have it run against a database.

The Players that GM has Secret Knowledge
This just has to boil down to a trust mechanism.  Yes, because I GM, I know your character is working undercover, but my character does not, and I hope I have your trust that I will not use that knowledge in-game.

Different "House Rules" per GM
This is something that the four of us acknowledge openly.  We have actually created a FB group specifically for discussions of this nature to attempt to solidify a standardized set of house rules when possible.

So far, so good.

The biggest Con I really see:  I have about 50 mission ideas, and I only run once every four weeks!


Wednesday, June 25, 2014

GM Notes: Omni Table to Difficulty Conversion

For decades, I have loved the simplicity of the Talislanta/Omni resolution system:  d20+skill+stat+/-modifiers check table.

After a couple decades of running SLA Industries and D6 almost exclusively it seems that while wonderfully simple, it underwhelms me as a GM.

With SLA Industries and WEG d6, and to an extent almost all the games produced after 1990, the common resolution method has been: roll dice, add/subtract stuff vs a difficulty number.

Difficulty numbers are a very fast and easy method of resolution, so easy in fact, that even with all the different task resolution systems in existence, they almost all follow the same basic setup.

5  Easy
10  Skilled
15  Moderate
20  Difficult
25  Very Difficult
30  Impossible

(for D20 difficulty, basically add 10, some numbers have been averaged/fudged for convenience of illustrating the point over exact definitions)

For Talislanta/Omni resolution, it would basically seem to follow the same difficulty as d20, but what about the Partial, Full and Critical Success, not to mention Mishap ratings of the Omni Table?  That is what really brings home variety in a game with static damage.

This is where things can get fun (and this would be easily portable to d20 also from what I have seen).

Raises, or Staging

One of the greatest things found in games like Shadowrun, World of Darkness, Deadlands, etc is the ability to do "extra" stuff depending on how well you roll, Talislanta/Omni reflect this with the Omni Table by having the above levels of success.

Sometimes this can be a bit tricky, or non-intuitive, to interpret.  I prefer things to be straight forward and fast, the less time I spend interpreting the rules, the more time we all get to enjoy the game.  But, I do love me some critical successes!

In keeping with the scaling above for difficulty, degrees of success would follow the same pattern.  For example, if the difficulty of the task is 15 (10+5 for 'easy') and you roll a total of 25, you can see easily that you have 2 'Raises' (25-15=10, 10/5=2).

After that, it is just a matter of telling the story:  "You pick the lock with blazing speed, not very many of the simple locks like that one around anymore."

For combat in the Omni system using this rule it still works.

Attacker Rating (skill+stat) = 6
Defender Rating (skill+stat) = 7
Attacker die roll = 15

Normal method:  15+(6-7)=14, a Success, normal damage is done
Difficulty method: 15+6 = 21 vs Defense of 17 (10+defenders rating), still a success, but more intuitively derived.

Okay, so what about higher levels?

Attacker Rating = 12
Defender Rating = 7
Attacker die roll = 20

Standard method, this would work out to a 25 (20+5), and be double damage.
Difficulty method:  20+12=32 vs Defense of 17, 15 higher than needed, so, 2 'Raises.'

Each 'Raise' could then be interpreted as:
a)  additional +1 damage per raise (eww...that kinda sucks comparatively)
b)  additional +DR of weapon (effectively double weapon damage before STR)
c)  -1 Defender Defense per raise
d)  a mixture of various effects

Let's look at d, because that sounds fun.  The defender would take 2x weapon damage for the first raise, then also be at -2 defense on the next turn as he recovers from the shock of the blow, or is trying to hold his guts in, possibly even from hesitation thinking "Do I really want to stay and fight this guy?"

The good thing is, rolling a total over 20 is now useful, the bad thing though is the inevitable 'Death Spiral' for the defender.

"But what about the ability to successfully Parry/Evade in Omni??" you ask?

Simply a matter of perception.

Normal method is the defender will focus his action on defense and roll d20+rating and if the result is a Full Success or better, the Attacker does not even roll, Partial Success indicates that IF the attacker hits he will only do half damage.

Standard parries (ie passive) are taken into account with Defense Rating (10+ applicable skill), an 'Active Parry/Evade' would work in the following manner:

d20+Defense = opponents difficulty to hit.

Using the above Ratings, if the defender decided to Parry as an action before hand and rolled a 15, the total would have been 32, still would have been a hit, but just barely.

This works great for melee, but what about Ranged attacks?

Remember the #1 rule of ranged combat: take cover!

As mentioned, melee Defense is 10+skill rating, this is fine for fighting face to face and you can (hopefully) semi-predict your attackers moves, but at a distance you cannot tell where your attacker is aiming.

So, my current thought is that Defense against ranged attacks would only be your Evade skill (passive) or d20+Evade Rating for an 'Active Defense.'

Yes, people with guns and bows are a bit more dangerous than people with knives with this setup, but you have nothing to defend yourself with at range, and the attacker still has range penalties.

Just some thoughts going through my head, until next time, enjoy your game!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

RPG: Music for Inspiration and Atmosphere

The question was posed on Talislanta FB page regarding how we use music in our gaming sessions.

I understood that this would be a post way to long for FB, so I am putting my reply here.

The questions presented:

1) a) how many of you use music when you run a game? and; b) if you do use music, do you mainly play it in the background, or do you use certain pieces/albums/artists for specific purposes or moments in a game?
2)what CDs/bands/composers do you listen to either while gaming, or for inspiration before gaming?

I have used music in the past at the gaming table. The second part of the question, and question #2 I want to elaborate on.

While running WEG Star Wars the main theme would be used to get the players on track, and while it was playing I would recap previous events, much like the beginning of the movie with the synopsis scroll.

Since 1993, the game I have run the most often was SLA Industries, a gritty sci-fi urban horror game.

For inspiration in SLA Industries I would use anything that brought to mind corruption, rain, city life, dreams of money and fame, etc. Some of the music I had on my driving CD at the time:

Faster Pussycat - Ship Rolls In, City has no Heart
Metallica - Master of Puppets, Disposable Heroes, Damage Inc
Duran Duran - Girls on Film, A View to a Kill, Skin Trade

And many others.

During the sessions I was able to play music for background it was important to match the music with the game.

Star Wars soundtrack while running Star Wars, a given.

While playtesting Midnight Realms for Talislanta, and a few Cannibal Sector missions for SLA Industries, I had the Black Angels CD from Kronos Quartet playing, just at the audible level. Some of the violin strikes were startling, and completely appropriately timed (players and GM alike jumped at one point, lol).

Music definitely brings a new dimension to the gaming table, even if low in the background.

The main problem I ever had with using music for specific scenes was having to stop the game to get the correct track playing, or you might be stuck running a dramatic, dark scene with something upbeat.

Not sure Alien would have had the same feel with the Indiana Jones Soundtrack, lol

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

GM Notes SPECIAL!: Russian Sleep Experiment Orange Soda

Read this and it really got my mind going.

To sum up, this piece of fiction tells about a Russian experiment in the 1940s regarding sleep deprivation that goes horribly awry.

Depending on the game, there are a few different ways this story can be handled at the gaming table.

SLA Industries: Operatives are sent to investigate a Soft Company and the lab is found a) intact while the experiment is in progress, b) after the experiment is over and they have to investigate what happened (hope someone turned off the gas...) or c) again, after the experiment is over, but the subjects are running loose...

Star Wars:  What have the Imperials done with some of the people on a remote frontier planet?  Well, lets check out the Imperial outpost and find out!

Rapture:  The PCs are sent to rescue people from a prison camp that has been set up, only to find that some of the people have been taken for experimentation.  What will the do when they discover the subjects have been possessed by demons?

D6 Adventure: duh...Russian (or Nazi) lab raid.

Asylum:  Either the characters stumble across the lab...or have volunteered to be test subjects!

Talislanta:  Rumors that the Rajan, or Kang, or Quan, or Farad, or Ur (after discovering some long-lost Alchemical texts on chemical warfare), or even possibly a Quaranian Necromancer-King, have reached more civilized lands and the PCs are hired to rescue the test subjects and destroy the lab if possible.

DnD:  A Necromancer has been using a new kind of undead to kidnap people in the middle of the night.  But the new undead is actually the people being experimented on and turned into nightmarish creatures to be controlled by the Necromancer.  These creatures are then used to kidnap more victims for the Necromancers deformed army.

Vampire:  Hunting out test subjects for Pentex to experiment on
Werewolf:  The tribal shaman or Ragabash has met one of the test subjects while traversing the Umbra and they pleaded with him for help, to save him from a Pentex lab.  The PCs are instructed to do so.  This would also explain what happens when the test subjects brainwaves flatline.
Hunter:  Vampires are out kidnapping people, Werewolves are creeping through the forest...time to get to work boys!
Mage:  The Progenitors and New World Order have teamed up with this new way to control the populace, at least that is the idea.  When word hits the Traditions, something must be done to stop it.

Cyberpunk/Shadowrun:  A contact, or friend, or family member, tells the PCs about this great job they found, it sounds a bit fishy so the PCs did some rooting, only to find out the lab hiring the guinea pigs manufactures toxins for warzones!  The PCs have to save their friend before it is too late!

Obviously, this story can be adapted to just about any RPG (Toon might be an issue...) and would make for a great creepy night of role-playing, or a fun night of killing baddies depending on play style of the group.

Me, I prefer to go with the creepy.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Conversion Machine: D20 SRD spells to Talislanta 4th/5th ed Part II

In my last Conversion Machine, we looked at the differences between Talislantan magic and D20 SRD (DnD) magic as it relates to the most widely used spell, Magic Missile.  We looked at converting the basics of the spell into the Talislanta framework and also a direct conversion that had to use Sorcery elements, making this magical staple into a very hard to cast bee sting.  This time, we continue with Magic Missile and way to get not only the same sort of effect, but make it even more powerful for our beginning Cymrillian Magician.

To recap, this is the spell we want to convert:
Magic Missile
Evocation [Force]
Level: Sor/Wiz 1
Components: V, S
Casting Time: 1 standard action
Range: Medium (100 ft. + 10 ft./level)
Targets: Up to five creatures, no two of which can be more than 15 ft. apart
Duration: Instantaneous
Saving Throw: None
Spell Resistance: Yes
A missile of magical energy darts forth from your fingertip and strikes its target, dealing 1d4+1 points of force damage.
The missile strikes unerringly, even if the target is in melee combat or has less than total cover or total concealment. Specific parts of a creature can’t be singled out. Inanimate objects are not damaged by the spell.
For every two caster levels beyond 1st, you gain an additional missile—two at 3rd level, three at 5th, four at 7th, and the maximum of five missiles at 9th level or higher. If you shoot multiple missiles, you can have them strike a single creature or several creatures. A single missile can strike only one creature. You must designate targets before you check for spell resistance or roll damage.

What we are working with here is obviously an offensive, or Attack, spell.  When we look at the Attack mode in Talislanta we actually have a couple of options:

Damage: 1 Hit Point of damage per Spell Level
Range: 50 feet (-1 to casting roll per 10 extra feet of range)
Duration: Instant / 1 round per level (no range)
Area: -1 to casting roll per foot of radius

In accordance with the rules in the book, we can make this a standard, single target spell, or an area effect spell.  Something more along the lines of the following:


Base Spell Level: 1 (Dynamic)
Range: 50 feet
Area: 0
Duration: Instant
Base Difficulty: -1 per additional HP damage
Example Spells: Arcane Bolt, Necromantic Assault

Or, for the AoE version:


Base Spell Level: 1 (Dynamic)
Range: 50 feet
Area: 5 feet radius (10 ft diameter)
Duration: Instant
Base Difficulty: -6 (-1 per additional HP damage)
Example Spells: Geomantic Blast, Fireball

Depending on description, and house rules, your Bolt spell you use for the single target effect, and your Blast spell you use for multiple opponents, I would definitely allow my players to state that the spell will only effect a maximum of 5 targets, no problem.  Also, this removes the bee-sting effect and can make this simple spell a feared part of any magicians arsenal.  That 3pt damage just became 9 for our Cymrillian friend with a straight d20 roll.

"Wait...he mentioned the rules in the book, what about the house rules he was talking about!"

Never fear!

There are various house rules that I have heard of regarding spells and their usage.  The rules that I personally use have the Spell Level as the only thing that can be changed after learning the spell (as shown above, the Area and Range are static.)  Although I prefer a more static spell, my players do not always like that idea.

For the conversions, I will be using Dynamic and Static spell levels depending on the mode and the spell itself and I will do my best to keep the feel of the spell as written.  This means, of course, that there will likely be 3 or more versions of some of the spells, Magic Missile, for example.

To keep the overall feel of the spell, and not make it horribly difficult to cause minimal damage, let us attack this a different way.

We look at the qualities of the original spell:
  1. It is simple
  2. At base it is single target
  3. It never misses
  4. Just about everyone who casts spells knows it

So, we can use the following for the base:

Magic Missle
Attack Mode
Base Spell Level:  1 (dynamic - meaning we can pump it for more damage)
Range: 50 feet (it halves the range, but we want to keep it as simple as possible)
Duration:  Instant
Special:  Qualitas, unerring, -15
Base Difficulty:  -16 (-1 per additional HP damage)

Hmm...still seems pretty difficulty, but with our +9 to cast it only comes out to a d20-7, still pretty hard for 1 HP damage.  Let us bend the rules a little.  So far I have been using the 'unerring' aspect of the spell as a 'Major Change' to the mode's capabilities, let me drop that to 'Moderate' which will save us -5 and make the Base Difficulty -11 instead.

That still puts our Magician at d20+9-11, or d20-2, but it also gives him the opportunity to boost the damage a little.  To do 5 damage it will put him at that d20-7, and as long as he does not mishap he will hit.

But there is another way...

You can dodge an Arcane Bolt, you cannot dodge a magic missile, so we meet in the middle a little.

Magic Missle
Attack Mode
Base Spell Level: 1 (dynamic)
Range: 50ft
Duration: Instant
Special:  Qualitas, Minor Change, hard to dodge, target dodges at -1/3 spell level, -5
Base Difficulty:  -6

Now we have it set up a bit differently, still having to use Sorcery, but at a much lower difficulty.  While still not the unfailing hit that the d20 version has, this does make it a bit harder to dodge and helps to keep the feel of the spell.  But what about the additional missiles and targets?

Well, a 3rd level Wizard in DnD is actually pretty accomplished when you think about it.  I believe in 3rd edition it breaks down to about 13 encounters per level, lets figure 6-7 encounters per session, so about 4 sessions.

I usually run a 'Heroic' campaign in Talislanta, so the PCs will be getting approximately 20 xp per session.  A decent amount of 80 experience can be given to our young hero and we can get him casting the unerring version without too much difficulty, or we can use Qualitas again...

Magic Missile
Attack Mode
Base Spell Level: 1 (dynamic)
Range: 50ft
Duration: Instant
Special:  Qualitas, Minor Change, hard to dodge -1/3 spell level, -5; Qualitas, additional target -1 per additional target, Minor Change, -5
Base Difficulty:  -11

Still not too shabby, keeps the basic feel of the spell.  Main caveat here though, is the damage would have to be split between the two targets, unless you up the additional target to a Major Change for an additional -5 difficulty.

Granted, that is starting to get very unwieldy, even for our experienced Magician.  Personally, I think the best bet is to leave it single target and use a blast style spell for multiple targets just to keep it simple.

Well, I hope this little venture gave you something to think about, even though it was aimed specifically at d20 and the Talislanta system the thought objects are going to be pretty close with any kind of conversion.

How much CAN we keep from the original?
Can we make it feel the same?
What are the different ways to accomplish the same goal, and which one works best for what we want to do?

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Conversion Machine: D20 SRD spells to Talislanta 4th/5th ed Part I

So, for 'funsies' I decided to start converting the D20 SRD spells to the Talislanta 4th/5th edition mix that I use.  'Mix' because I prefer the modes from 4th edition but some of the changes that appeared in 5th edition.

Using the magic system from 4th edition has always been fun for me, I absolutely loved the players that would come to the table wanting to play a caster, but not wanting to take the time and energy to create their beginning spells.

This would allow me to not only have fun creating the spells, but also kind of show them what the magic in Talislanta was like.  From the minor skin and hair enhancements to pillars of flame that destroyed just about anything it touched, magic in Talislanta runs the full spectrum.

At times, using the Omni/Talislanta system for more 'standard' fantasy games, the thrill of watching a player look through their brand new, custom spellbook, carefully reading what I have handed them, to hear them say, "You, sir, are a sick and twisted man."  (This was stated by a player who had taken BattleMagic while looking through his healing spells.  New meaning to "A pox on you and your people!")

This always did seem to put the game on hold, for at least one session, while I crept back into my hole to do my dirty work, and some players just like to have a list of spells to choose from.

This brought me back to memories of searching through the AD&D 1st and 2nd edition spell lists, and, always being a sucker for punishment, I decided to grab the D20 SRD and do some converting.  Most of my players are familiar with DnD in some manner, so they would get a kick out of it.

So, a quick google search and download later, I had the spell descriptions from A-B and my Talislanta modes custom cheat sheet opened in my trusty word processor.

There are some caveats that you have to acknowledge when doing any conversions, especially when you want to stay true to the feel of one game, while using the system from another.

For example, modern magic in the Talislanta RPG system has the following rules:
  1. Cannot return the dead to life
  2. Cannot create life
  3. Cannot affect time or causality
  4. Cannot control two Powers at once (Fire and Earth, for example)
  5. Cannot cast more than one spell at a time or blend two spells together (ie, use two modes at once)
Note that these rules do not apply to ancient magic.

Okay, so I already know there are going to be some issues with spells from DnD, no problem, all of the above can be accomplished using Sorcery from the Codex Magicus.

But then we get into the choices that MUST be made.  While Talislantan magic is very personal and a creative endeavor, magic from DnD is not.  This is because of the history from the two games, not the world history, exactly, the real world history of the games.

DnD sprung from miniature battles, massive scale battlefields and siege rules where wizards stood atop battlements and hammered the opposing army with magical artillery.

Talislanta came from table-top RPGs, where character development and a search for the unknown and history were active at the same time as a heavy interest in the post-apocalyptic genre.  Games such as Shadowrun, Cyberpunk, Earthdawn and Gamma World were all popular.  In a way, Talislanta helped to usher in 'Fantasy-Punk' if you wish to use that term.

One of the big differences that these two paths differ on, is range.

Standard range for an Attack mode spell in Talislanta is 50ft+10ft per additional boost, in DnD the range is much further.  The quintessential 'Magic Missle' spell, for example, is 100ft+10ft per level.

Additionally, targeting is different.  In Talislanta, that magic bolt effects only a single target while in DnD you gain an additional missile every two levels (max of 5) that can be split between up to 5 targets.  Also, the Talislanta bolt requires a roll to hit, the magic missile is unerring and always strikes its target.

As I said before, a lot of these differences can be ignored, or you can use the Sorcery rules from the Codex Magicus to get a more exact conversion.  But how does that effect the usefulness of the spells themselves?

Let us look at Magic Missile.

First, from the D20 SRD:
Magic Missile
Evocation [Force]
Level: Sor/Wiz 1
Components: V, S
Casting Time: 1 standard action
Range: Medium (100 ft. + 10 ft./level)
Targets: Up to five creatures, no two of which can be more than 15 ft. apart
Duration: Instantaneous
Saving Throw: None
Spell Resistance: Yes
A missile of magical energy darts forth from your fingertip and strikes its target, dealing 1d4+1 points of force damage.
The missile strikes unerringly, even if the target is in melee combat or has less than total cover or total concealment. Specific parts of a creature can’t be singled out. Inanimate objects are not damaged by the spell.
For every two caster levels beyond 1st, you gain an additional missile—two at 3rd level, three at 5th, four at 7th, and the maximum of five missiles at 9th level or higher. If you shoot multiple missiles, you can have them strike a single creature or several creatures. A single missile can strike only one creature. You must designate targets before you check for spell resistance or roll damage.

This is a 'Level 1' spell for Sorcerers and Wizards, an 'easy' incantation that almost every single player I have met has in their wizards repertoire.

Now let us look at the Talislanta version using the basic rules for magic:
Magic Missile
Attack Mode
Level: 1+
Components: V, S
Casting Time: 1 standard action
Range: Medium (50 ft. + 10 ft./additional -1 to casting roll)
Targets: 1
Duration: Instantaneous
Saving Throw: Evade (yes, in Talislanta, you can dodge offensive magic)
Spell Resistance: Yes (lets face it, resistance to magic is pretty universal)
Base Difficulty:  -1 per Spell Level
A missile of magical energy darts forth from your fingertip and strikes its target, dealing 1 point of force damage per Spell Level.

As you can see, the range is much lower, and you have a chance to miss.  Also missing is the ability to target multiple creatures.  Another realization is that while the DnD Magic Missile tops out at 5d4+5, there is no upper limit to Spell Levels in Talislanta, although I would not suggest casting a spell more than 1.5x your total bonus, that can get nasty.

Now let us look at the Talislanta version using a direct conversion:
Magic Missile
Attack Mode
Level:  3+
Components: V, S
Casting Time: 1 standard action
Range: Medium (100 ft. + 10 ft./level)
Targets: Up to five creatures, no two of which can be more than 15 ft. apart
Duration: Instantaneous
Saving Throw: None
Spell Resistance: Yes
Base Difficulty:  -33 (Qualitas, unerring -15; Qualitas, additional missile per additional 2 levels max 5, -10; minimum range -5, Spell Level 3 base)
A missile of magical energy darts forth from your fingertip and strikes its target, dealing 3 (avg 1d4+1) points of force damage.
The missile strikes unerringly, even if the target is in melee combat or has less than total cover or total concealment. Specific parts of a creature can’t be singled out. Inanimate objects are not damaged by the spell.
For every three spell levels beyond 3rd, you gain an additional missile—two at 6rd level, three at 9th, four at 12th, and the maximum of five missiles at 15th level or higher. If you shoot multiple missiles, you can have them strike a single creature or several creatures. A single missile can strike only one creature. You must designate targets before you check for spell resistance or roll damage.

YIKES!  This simple, basic spell just became a Master-Level...bee sting.

Now, to put this in perspective we will look at what a beginning Talislantan Wizard has for his skill.  I am choosing the Cymrillian Magician from the 4th Edition Talislanta book to use as an example.  The reason for this choice is simple, they are supposed to be the absolute best at spellslinging.

With Magic Rating of +6, and beginning mode at +3 for a total of +9, that shows great potential.  So, to cast even the most basic of the direct conversion, our awesome Magician, best you can get for a starting character, will roll d20-24 (d20+MR+Mode-Difficulty).  Ouch!  He just got fried, for a whopping 3-6 points of damage depending on house rules for Magical Mishaps (or, he just had the party teleported to some random dimension...).

Now, this does not mean that our Magic Missle cannot be done, it just shows how different the two schools of thought are, and pretty major genre differences.

Okay, so this leaves us with some serious thinking to do.  Not to worry, I will show another way to work this next time, and it will actually make the spell more powerful, and easier for our Cymrillian friend.

Until next time, enjoy your game.