Wednesday, January 18, 2012

GM Questionnaire

Zak S of D&D with Porn Stars posted this questionnaire for GMs, so while I am working on a long review of Isle of the Unknown, I thought I would take a crack.

1. If you had to pick a single invention in a game you were most proud of what would it be?

I think Zak is talking about a monster, trap or magic item. To be honest, I guess I would say my re-working of Ramsey Campbell’s Great Old One, Eihort, for an unpublished Call of Cthulhu scenario.

2. When was the last time you GMed?

Last Friday, for my Old School Wilderlands D&D game.

3. When was the last time you played?

Gencon before last? On Sunday morning, I played a Godlike game. When my character was offered a choice between reading a secret report or studying maps, I quipped “Little Orphan Annie” and got a will point out of it.

4. Give us a one-sentence pitch for an adventure you haven't run but would like to.

Character are required to re-construct an ancient dirge to keep an evil God/Dragon/Great Old One from awakening, using clues found in various dungeons and other adventure sites.

5. What do you do while you wait for players to do things?

Depends. If they are enjoying themselves through role playing I try to keep my mouth shut, and do prep that I haven’t completed. If they are bored or frustrated I’ll try to prompt them based on what their characters might come up with, like “Bob, doesn’t Zaffo the Bard usually visit Mona the Priestess while in town? Perhaps she knows where the McGuffin might be hidden...”

6. What, if anything, do you eat while you play?

I try to stay away from food, cuz i can’t role play real well while I am stuffing my mouth, but a drink (usually root beer or fruit juice) is a must.

7. Do you find GMing physically exhausting?

More mentally exhausting, but after I stop I am usually tired. At a con, I start to lose my voice.

8. What was the last interesting (to you, anyway) thing you remember a PC you were running doing?

I assume Zak means what interesting thing one of my players did while I was GMing. To be honest, I am never very surprised by what players do. Some always seem to tinker with their builds (depending on the system) in order to freak me out by what they are able to beat up, but I am never very interested in this sort of thing. One of my players recently refused to go deeper into a Dungeon, because I described a cold, fetid air rising from a stairwell, stating “No Undead air-conditioning!” I thought this was funny, and am always delighted with players that role play fear, rather than mindless bravura or braggadocio.

9. Do your players take your serious setting and make it unserious? Vice versa? Neither?

All the time. All the time. Frankly, I end up encouraging them in this sort of thing through the use of funny voices. Nowadays I just let them go off, or try to riff off of what they are making fun of. I don’t remember a case where they took seriously a something I intended as comic.

10. What do you do with goblins?

Depends on the background. In Pendragon, they’re sly fey tricksters, who when caught, morph into feuding muppets. In my current D&D campaign, they’re vile, creepy little bastards, who cry out “Eat your eyes, eat your eyes!” in combat, and dangle little bits of fallen enemies from their weapons and armor.

11. What was the last non-RPG thing you saw that you converted into game material (background, setting, trap, etc.)?

I converted the Peter Watts novel, Blindsight, into a BRP scenario for a university project. Got an “A”.

12. What's the funniest table moment you can remember right now?

I was in all-Drow mini campaign, and played a Drow seductress. One of the other characters complained about me not following orders, and I replied (in character) “I didn’t hear any complaints the last time I was under you.”

13. What was the last game book you looked at--aside from things you referenced in a game--why were you looking at it?

Death Frost Doom. I am re-reading it to run it at a local con soon.

14. Who's your idea of the perfect RPG illustrator?

David A. Trampier

15. Does your game ever make your players genuinely afraid?

Yessssss. Being a CoC Keeper forever will do that to you.

16. What was the best time you ever had running an adventure you didn't write? (If ever)

A series of Greg Stafford’s Pendragon mini-adventures, which were Old School before there was an Old School.

17. What would be the ideal physical set up to run a game in?

I vary in my opinion of this. Sometimes I want a full game room with a Sultan game table and a full set of resin dungeon pieces (along with fully painted minis) and sometimes I want the kitchen table and some maps.

18. If you had to think of the two most disparate games or game products that you like what would they be?

Robin Laws’ Kaiin Players Guide and Bob Bledsaw’s City State of the Invincible Overlord.

19. If you had to think of the most disparate influences overall on your game, what would they be?

For my D&D game? Tolkien and Moorcock, for literary influences, I suppose, and Bledsaw and Robin Laws for gaming ones. (Scratches head.) I dunno.

20. As a GM, what kind of player do you want at your table?

#1, A player who plays nice with others. #2, This quote from Luke Crane, "I want the players to take the character and do what they think would be cool for the character, not what they think the character would do."

21. What's a real life experience you've translated into game terms?

Being accosted for money by indigents at Gencon. I turned that into a tournament scenario where the characters are indigents in the real world and who are heroes and monarchs in Lovecraft’s Dreamlands. I called it Kings in Disguise.

22. Is there an RPG product that you wish existed but doesn't?

A couple: A faithful retro-clone of Gamma World, 1st and 2nd edition. A Middle Earth RPG with Pete Fenlon’s original MERP maps, a complete (and completed) version of The Enemy Within campaign. Gygax’s original Greyhawk dungeons and notes, Jorune with better rules, and 2nd edition of Empire of the Petal Throne. About 10 that I would like to write.

23. Is there anyone you know who you talk about RPGs with who doesn't play? How do those conversations go?

“Sorry, I can’t do X with you. I’ll be playing D&D that night.”

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Another Old-School Rant...

I just happened on a link to older Grognardia blog entry, where James M. talks about rhetoric used in describing the 'Old School' movement/renaissance/phenomena/whatever. In one of the comments, Carl talks about a more specific definition:

"Some of the suggested defining features of old school that have been mentioned above are:

- ease of character generation and a corresponding tendency towards higher character mortality rates,

- the absence of player entitlement (i.e. the DM decides what happens and the game itself does not lead the players to believe that they are entitled to specific rewards, etc.),

- a very rules light approach that leaves much if not most of the non-combat mechanics up to DM adjudication and

- a relatively uncomplicated combat system that allows for swift resolution of even large melees with multiple opponents.

These characteristics combine to give old school games a distinct character that is often lacking in new school games which have far more exhaustively written rule sets; namely, the rules of an old school game seldom if ever impinge upon the fun of the game, while many a new school game session is constantly interrupted by players and DM's alike referring to the rules to keep the game moving forward. While that may not be a definition that could be agreed upon by everyone, I think it is a good start..."

This is, I believe, the essence of what I have written about in earlier blogs. I note that at least one of the players in my current (non-old school) game has responded that Old School had much more to do with style than substance of the rules used. He may still hold the same opinion, but it is nice to know that some people out there do see what I see.

There is one possible argument against this approach that may have some merit: that this way of playing is more appealing to GM, than it ever would be to a player.

As a GM, I absolutely believe that it is my responsibility to provide an entertaining and occasionally thought-provoking experience to my players. Job #1 is providing an experience that makes them want to come back to the table. But this also has to be balanced with my fun, or I won’t want to come to the table in the first place.

So my answer to this argument from players is this: come to my table, try playing it in this manner. You might be surprised at the results.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Wilderlands Campaign House Rules

I know I said I would continue the saga of my players today, but got caught up working on my list of house rules. You will note influences from other games, as well as some new character classes. I'll post the classes this week, but most of them are based on already existing texts, so I may need to include the OGL and and send a notice before I post them. Please feel free to critique and comment on these house rules. I would be interested in knowing if other OSR GMs bother with anything this wordy.

Wilderlands Campaign House Rules

1. Swords & Wizardry are the rules we are using to run the game. S&W is a retro-clone of Original Edition D&D (the box set and the first three supplements, plus selected material from the early Dragon magazine). While this is the base, don’t be surprised if you run into things like spells and classes that are different in my campaign.

2. For attacks, we are using the target 20 system. Add your attack bonus and the armor class of your opponent to a d20 die roll. If the total is 20 or greater, you hit.

3. Criticals and Fumbles – if you roll a 1 or a 20, you may get a critical hit or a fumble. There aren’t any charts for this; I simply describe what happens based on the circumstances. The normal result of a critical is +1 to damage. The normal result of a fumble is that you fall down.

4. Every human character has a social class. Roll a d6 and consult the following chart:

1 – Noble

2 – Gentlemen

3 – Military

4 – Merchant

5 – Guildsman

6 – Peasant

The top three classes are considered ‘Noble’ and possess the right to bear arms and invoke High Justice. They may be trained in using Noble weapons on the weapon chart.

Merchants and Guildsmen are considered yeoman, and may bear yeoman weapons in a time of war or while traveling, which they may be trained in. They may invoke justice by Magistrate in the city of their origin and sometimes allied cities to their own.

Peasants may only bear peasant weapons, and only while travelling or in a time of war, and may be stopped, questioned and imprisoned without recourse.

If you want to know the exact status of your father and family within their class, ask me, and I will determine it randomly.

5. To generate a character, get a sheet of paper and roll 3d6, in order: Str, Int, Wis, Dex, Con, Cha. Re-roll the lowest characteristic. High stats do not matter as much in this version the game. If you don’t meet the minimum for a class, talk to me and we’ll talk about adjusting the characteristics to allow you play the class you wish to. Roll 3d6 x 10 to determine your staring funds in gold coins.

6. The following classes are available to play, along their minimum statistic requirements.

Fighter (str 9)

Cleric (wis 9)

Thief (dex 9)

Magic-User (int 9)

Ranger (con 15, int 12, wis 12)

Paladin (cha 17)

Monk (str 12, wis 15, dex 15)

Druid (wis 12, cha 14)

Assassin (str 12, dex 12, int 12)

Amazon (str 12, dex 12, con 12)

Bard (cha 14, str 12, dex 12, int 12)

Elf (dex 12, int 12)

Dwarf (con 12)

Halfling (dex 12)

You will note that various non-human races are also a class. In order to be a particular race, you must also take the class. There is no multi-classing in the game.

Please note that these are the classes in their original form, which means there are real differences between these classes and their 1st Edition AD&D versions. For example, other than Fighters, all classes have a maximum +1 bonus to hit for high strength. Other differences exist.

7. If you are a cleric, you will have a custom list of spells and other abilities depending upon your religion. Most will be unique.

8. If you are a magic user, you will be given a grimoire with many spells and perhaps other magical knowledge. Most of these spells will be unique, and not listed in the rulebook.

9. Once a day, you may invoke a god or other being to receive a game mechanic benefit. You must speak the invocation in character (and get it right) to receive the benefit. This doesn’t cost any money, you just have to know the invocation and use it correctly. Invocations can be learned from a priest after making a minor sacrifice at a temple. If you go to a temple, you can ask the priest to make a sacrifice for you, and receive a Great Blessing which you can then invoke later. Great Blessings are like one-use spells, and vary considerably from temple to temple, even those worshipping the same god. The sacrifices involved are usually very expensive.

10. The weight of items is not tracked. Instead, items are divided into two categories, Encumbering and Non-encumbering, and are listed on your character sheet. The sheet tracks how this affects your encumbrance and movement.

11. There are two types of skills, Background and Adventuring. Backgrounds skills are descriptions, like Blacksmith or Fletcher, and describe skills you might have picked up in the past. No die rolls are needed. Either you have the skill and can accomplish the task, or not. Adventuring skills are possessed by most characters, and are rated on a 1-6 scale. 1d6 is rolled when exercising the skill, and if you roll equal to or under your rating, you succeed. Various classes may also have exclusive skills, such as thieves, bards or rangers, and these are usually checked using percentage dice.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Wilderlands Campaign write-up, Sessions 2 - 4

Well, it’s been a long time since I posted, which I blame on my return to the university as a student. That isn’t quite true, but it did burn enormous amounts of free time, which were not then available for gaming or blogging. The truth of the matter is that I got out of the habit of it, which is the secret to any writing and most of life.

In the interim we had five sessions of the campaign which I will try to summarize. I am mostly going to comment on how OSR-matters arose during play, but also give some character highlights as well.

2nd session. The second session followed almost immediately on the first, and revolved around a return to the dungeon that I had placed immediately north of Brushwood, in the same hex (Hex 4015 of the City-State map). The players decided descend deeper into the ruins, and encountered some dead bees, as well as a large amount of honey. On the next level, they found some rooms, which they slowly explored. I don’t believe they explored the entire level, but they managed to find a little treasure, and avoided the serious fights. They found a staircase which led to a lower level, with a chill wind emanating from it. Garion (the priest of Mitra) initially said that he would refuse to travel into an area with “undead air-conditioning” and had to be talked into descending further. On the next level, they found an area with metal corridors and metal hatchway style doors, which continued to creep them out.

3rd Session. In one of the first rooms they ventured into, they found a metal desk, bolted to the metal wall, which had various knobs and button on it. On the wall above the desk were various windows, which seemed to be ‘scrying portals’ to other areas in the dungeon. They fiddled with the knobs (of course) and found themselves confronted with a ‘demon’ face, which waved its hand, turning all the ‘scrying portals’ black.

After this episode, they continued to explore the other areas, once again blundering their way into areas where no monsters were.

I had been fairly strict in my timekeeping, rolling random encounters as dictated by the ‘once every two turns’ rule, but I usually chose the result based on what made the most sense to me, in terms of pacing and mood. Much of the time that ended up being a mysterious event, as much as a monster.

During the last encounter, in some sort of ruined kitchen, Freedrick stirred up some yellow mold, but it was poor Thaddeus Silverkin who died as a result.

The first death of the campaign, from a failed save vs. poison. This was a bit of a shock to Thaddeus’ player, as he was I think expecting some sort of way out.

The rest of the characters decide to return to Brushwood, where Thaddeus was from, in order to return his remains to his family.

4th session. As the characters returned, and took care of their duties to their fallen comrade, they discussed taking on new members of their company. Soon, they made the acquaintance of an elf named Lexorus, who stumbled into town with little equipment. He claimed to have been set upon by Goblins to the south, in the midst of the Brushwood. These goblins slew his companion, stole his equipment and left him for dead. He desired revenge, and convinced the other players that the caves of the Goblins in the depths of the Brushwood held much treasure.

This was R’s new character, who decided on an elf before seeing all the details on how I run elves in my game. Basically, I use the Basic/Expert approach, where the elf is its own character class. I don’t allow PCs to cast spells in armor unless they access special elven armor through play. So right now (since he borrowed money from the party for armor) he’s a fighter who can search well.

KY decided that her fighter was a knight, based on my use of the Judges Guild social class tables. Or at least she was trained as a knight, but is not yet a knight, her father being still alive. I mention this because she asked about gaining a follower, which I decided to work into the back ground of one of the other characters.

The High Priest of the local temple of Mitra (and de facto leader of Brushwood), when he hear that Garion had returned, took him aside and questioned him about his recent activities. After hearing about how dangerous Garion found the whole experience, the High Preist said that he had a nephew, who needed work for benefit of his soul, and would KY’s character be willing to take him on as a squire? The characters agreed, and the nephew, Geoffrey was summoned from the inn where he was sleeping of a drunk, pockets emptied from a card game the previous night.

KY had inquired about getting a thief henchmen, and so I quickly generated him on a 3x5 card, and said he was her new squire. To my delight, I rolled abysmally low for Geoffrey’s morale, which I use on a regular basis to figure your what the NPC henchmen really do when they get ordered around.

After rousting Geoffrey, the party proceeded into the depths of the small Brushwood forest, one hex to the south of the village (hex 4016, I believe). Along the way, they encountered some very careful woodsmen, who claimed that they had seen Goblins recently, of a strange grey color. The party also had a rumor card stating that there was a new tribe of goblins in a large hill/small mountain in the middle of the woods. As they approached, I called for bushcraft checks, so they were able to discover to sneak up on the entrance, with two goblins guards outside. They dispatched these fairly easily, and proceeded into the cave complex. Just inside the entrance, were carved warning in elvish about not awaking a sleeping evil inside the cavern. Lexorus recalled that he was told this cave complex was taboo, and that none should enter it. Disregarding these warnings in his desire for revenge, he pushed the party onward.

Of course, once inside, they fell into their first ambush.

More tomorrow. Really.