Wednesday, 22 June 2022

Soulless

This week is the tipping point where I really do feel like AI is going to steal work from human creators. Of course this has been obvious for a while, but now I can see it in action in my own hands, as I've been testing out Midjourney for image creation. Naturally I prompt it to spawn inane creations that make me chuckle, but I've also been using it for actual RPG stuff. 

I tried it out on Primeval Bastionland hoping to slot in some placeholder art to help me and my playtesters visualise the world. 

Similar to the Failed Career spreads from Electric, I'm working on separate Knight and Myth pages for Primeval Bastionland. The former are your PCs, and bank of character ideas, the latter your world broadly painted through stories, all real. Underneath their name each gets a a two line shot of flavour text, just like the Failed Careers, but here I've leaned into some flowery poetry. For each of the entries I started the AI off with just the flavour text and a few general guidelines ("Greyscale Medieval Art" and canvas size)


Prompt: The Order. They were six in the circle, no first among them Each a knight and sage, master and student. Greyscale medieval art.

The first and most obvious thing about this art is it's actually good. There are tricks you can learn to get better outputs, but the real trick is to keep trying until you get something that looks good. Even then, the AI struggles with details, especially when you want actual humans.

God help you if you want somebody riding a horse.


Prompt: Female Knight. Within a blink they were on their steed Knight and horse at one, a red streak in the green. Greyscale medieval art.

That one took a LOT of attempts. You can't be too strict about composition either, but if you want dreamy mythic visions then this is good stuff. Making creepy scenes is easymode.


The Mournful spirit. They wandered ahere and athere, drawn by sorrow. Old as the sun, timid as a child. Greyscale medieval concept art.

So this tool can't do everything (yet?) but aside from helping out artless writers, there's something I actually really like about it for this project.

It throws out things that I don't think a human artist would draw.

WAIT I know how that sounds. Of course human artists can surprise you, even if you give them a relatively specific brief. 

The difference is that the AI doesn't seem to give a shit about making you happy. You aren't paying it. So sometimes you'll really want a Wyvern and it keeps giving you stuff like this.

(Prompt: The Wyvern. All jaw and neck like knotted string. All wing and tail a baleful sting. Greyscale, medieval, concept art.)

Yeah it's my fault really. When I wrote that flavour text I wasn't imagining it would be interpreted by a robot, so we get a monster that is literally "all wing and neck". No human would interpret the brief that way.

But I want this world to be a bit weird and dreamy, right? Maybe I can get on board with this Wyvern.

Well, no. I'm pretty sure I want this thing to have some sort of discernible anatomy.

Or... do I?

And that exemplifies why I'm enjoying this process so much. 


 (Prompt: When night met day, where water flame. They saw the child, rejoiced in name. Greyscale medieval art.)

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------

This post was originally sent as a reward to all Patreon supporters, and is released freely on this site a week after its original publication.

If you want to support my blog, podcasts, and video content then head over to my Patreon.


Tuesday, 14 June 2022

Bonuses

When should you give the characters a bonus to their attack? This would be Enhanced in ITO or a Bonus Die in EB. 

Sometimes this can feel arbitrary, and it's just a game of "can I convince the GM". There's an element of that, but when I GM I try to look for one of three ways that the character is earning the bonus. In short, I look for something in return. 

A Note on Freebies: Sometimes a bonus just happens from a situational advantage if it makes sense. You're fighting cog robots that are winding down, and their description says attackers get a bonus against them once they start to flag. Orcs are vulnerable fighting under sunlight. The examples for this post are more for situations where a player might say "do I get a bonus because..."


What's Earning Your Bonus?

INFO: You've learned something that would help here. This how I might handle weak spots. Not glowing bullseyes, but a reward for going out and talking to hunters and those who have fought the creature before.  That stone mammoth has STR 19, Armour 3, so getting a +d10 to every attack because you learn of its hatred of fire is practically necessary. 

PREP: A good action now to reward good action later. The classic is "setting up" an ally for their attack. You could formalise this as a standard move, but I like keeping these things a little more open. In essence, if a player can point back to a previous action that specifically set up the current attack I'm happy to give them a bonus for it. 

RISK: Really there are a few ways this can go. The classic is "roll a save, if you pass then you attack with bonus if you fail then your attack whiffs and maybe you take damage" but there's a lot of fine tuning that can be done in there. I don't really like whiffs, so I'd probably just have the attack go through as normal, with either immediate damage to the character or, better yet, a bonus being granted to their target on their counter-attack. There are even cases where you might not call for a Save, and just allow a bonus in return for taking a hit yourself. Fight recklessly and both of you will get +d8 to attacking each other. If they join in the recklessness maybe it goes up to +d10! Here the Risk element is still present, even without a Save. 

How Much of a Bonus?

Now this is where it gets tricky. If it's something that can't be easily repeated I lean towards generosity, giving a +d12 bonus, otherwise I tend to go to +d8 if it's something that can be brought out again and again. Naturally that gives us +d10 to use as a middle ground if you're uncertain.

+d6 does work if you just want to throw them a bone, but I feel like I'd rather just grant the full +d8 or advise them to find a better approach. +d6 is better suited to passive ongoing bonuses instead. 

Sometimes removing a level of granularity like this lets the spotlight shine more brightly on player choice and agency. 

-----------------------------

This Bastionland Editorial was originally sent as a reward to all Patreon supporters, and is released freely on this site a week after its original publication.

If you want to support my blog, podcasts, and video content then head over to my Patreon.


Tuesday, 7 June 2022

Slow

Relax everyone, I've solved Soulslike Combat in RPGs™

Like all the great rules of our time this was written for my games but works with anything. 

SLOW ACTIONS: Some actions or items are noted as Slow. To use them the character must have declared the action at the end of their previous turn, declaring targets if needed. Declaring a Slow action is not an action in itself. 

Not complicated. Inspired by Into the Breach more than the actual souls games. Works on the idea that you can give some truly horrible abilities to your monsters as long as the players get a chance to respond. 

Put to use below. 

THE WURM
Callous, cruel, awful, and long Feasting far beyond its hunger, only happy in bloated rest 



The unending devourer STR 18, DEX 8, CHA 5, 10hp

Crush (d8 blast) or gorge (2d12, slow, swallow whole on 7+ for d8 ongoing damage until the victim is freed)
Craggy hide (A2)

  • A force of gluttony, greed, and sloth. It exists to ruin the balance of nature
  • Speaks to all living things but loses patience with anything that isn’t worshipping or bringing gifts
  • Cannot rest until its colossal hunger is sated, then sleeps for a year

In the wake of the feasting

  • Towns are left crushed and bare
  • Forests are torn from their roots, all creatures swallowed or scattered 
  • It rests in places dark, wet, and repellent to intruders

WURM BEHAVIOUR

Conversation
1:
Spout hatred
2:
Spread fear
3:
Aggrandise self
4:
Insult enemies
5:
Seek submission
6:
Entice fealty

Combat
1:
Cut off escape
2:
Trap them and leave
3:
Target the weak
4:
Break their arms
5:
Flee to advantageous ground
6:
Blunt assault

EDIT:

EXAMPLE OF PLAY BY POPULAR DEMAND

GM: The dragon rakes its claws at you for d10 damage (Rolls a 2) that's 2 damage.

Player: Phew, I still have HP, so I manage to dodge the worst of it. 

GM: At the end of its turn the dragon rears back and prepares to blast you with its acid breath. (Looks down at notes) Just to warn you, this one is nasty! It's a Slow action so it has to perform it next turn, targeting you. 

Player: Hmm.. how badly injured is the dragon?

GM: You've tired it out a little but it's in pretty good shape.

Let's look at 3 ways it could go from here

REALITY BRANCH 1

Player: Okay I'll run up and stab the thing with the spike of my billhook (rolls a 7).

GM: (subtracts the Dragon's armour of 2 for 5 damage, enough to lose some HP but not wound the creature) The Dragon is forced back, but your spike fails to pierce its glistening scales. Its jaws flash open and you're drenched in a spew of acidic spray (Rolls 2d10 damage, rolling 3 and 9) for 9 damage, and you're covered in corrosive bile that'll keep hurting you till it's washed off. Not looking good. 

REALITY BRANCH 2

Player: Is there anything I can hide behind?

GM: The ruined chapel is probably too far away, the rest is pretty open terrain. I'll give you a DEX Save if you want to try to dive into the ruins in time, otherwise you'll get hit with the acid. 

Player: I'll take it (Rolls a DEX Save, passing).

GM: You sprint and leap behind a fallen column just before the dragon unleashes its acidic breath in your direction. You hear the sizzling of corroding rock around you as you hide. Right, now it's your turn again, what do you do?

REALITY BRANCH 3

Player: How intelligent is this Dragon? It spoke before, right?

GM: Yeah it speaks a little, but it's definitely got an animalistic nature. 

Player: I throw myself down in front of the dragon. "Oh mighty creature, spare me and I'll show you where you might feast until you are truly sated"

GM: What's the idea here?

Player: The locals said this thing was just like raiding for food, right? Seems mostly driven by hunger.

GM: Yeah, good idea, but this thing isn't certain to be open to negotiation at this point. You'll need a CHA Save or it'll just ignore your pleas. 

Player: Okay, I go for it (Rolls a CHA Save, failing)

GM: The dragon doesn't seem impressed. It eyes you hungrily before blasting you with a shower of acid (rolls 2d10 for 4 and 6) 6 damage for now, how does that leave you?

Tuesday, 31 May 2022

Journeys

This Bastionland Editorial was originally sent as a reward to all Patreon supporters, and is released freely on this site a week after its original publication.

If you want to support my blog, podcasts, and video content then head over to my Patreon.

-----------------------------

Primeval Bastionland is finally at a stage where I can drag it to the table for an early playtest to see if the idea has any real legs.

It's built on the Electric Bastionland rules, but a couple of additions are needed for context here.

EXPOSED: Characters who are caught unprepared, helpless, or overloaded are Exposed. They are treated as if they have 0hp. If they improve their situation then their hp is consulted as normal. Traps and ambushes usually catch their victims Exposed when sprung.

BURDENS: Knights regularly acquire Burdens on their soul. Anybody carrying 3 or more Burdens is considered Exposed. Burdens are Relieved by their specific requirement, or taking a season of reflection or indulgence.

Being a game explicitly about quests, I wanted to have some tools on hand for roaming around the wilderness and undertaking long journeys. I wanted something different than just "roll to see how good/bad your journey is", so I'm trying out a set of guidelines that should encourage the players to plan their journey carefully and engage with the locals without being too focused on the minutiae of navigation and resource management.

DOMAINS & PROVINCES

A typical Domain covers 9 Provinces.

Roll a Host for the central Province, forming the main settlement and seat of power.

The remaining 8 Provinces are set to the North, Northeast, East etc. Each is defined by rolling a Myth that it is known to be linked to. If appropriate this may include a smaller settlement.

Myths can be interpreted literally, or in a more abstract manner. In case of duplicates the myth takes on several forms.

TRAVELLING

Days are split into 3 phases: Day, Eve, and Night. Travelling at Night is ill-advised if not impossible.

Travel between Provinces takes:

  • 1 Phase by horse or river with a route
  • +1 Phase on foot
  • +1 Phase without a route

Travelling to a new Domain follows the same guidance as above, but replaces each Phase with d6 full days. Each day gives the choice of two Provinces to pass through, each with their own Myth.

Etiquette dictates that hospitality be granted to travellers, though a favour is usually asked for in return. Roll a Host to discover who you find.

If Travellers are forced to spend the night camping without having secured the area they gain the Burden:
Weary: Sleep somewhere safe and comfortable.

Similarly, each day they go without food and drink gives the Burden:
Deprived: Have a hot meal and clean drink.*

SEASONS

A year is roughly split into summer and winter. After a Quest is completed roll 1d6.

1: The season changes.
2-3: The season is turning. Change after the next Quest.
4-6: The current season continues.

In winter, Eve is treated as night, and anyone travelling outside of a settlement gains the Burden:
Frigid: Get yourself warmed up.

*Yes, this is replacing the existing Deprived rule for this playtest!

Tuesday, 24 May 2022

Style

This Bastionland Editorial was originally sent as a reward to all Patreon supporters, and is released freely on this site a week after its original publication.

If you want to support my blog, podcasts, and video content then head over to my Patreon.

-----------------------------

Style. It doesn't matter which one you have as long as you have one.

Now I think that quote is talking about fashion, in which case I do not have one, but I think it carries over nicely to games. 

The games that just wash over me and fail to make any sort of impact are those that lack a style. I'm not talking about lavish production values, instead I just want a game to grab something and run with it. 

2400 is lo-fi sci-fi on a single sheet of paper. You can spot the style a mile off.

Lancer is hyper tactical mech-building blast'em up. There's a lot that doesn't work for me, but it goes hard on its thing. 

Worlds Without Number (or anything by Kevin Crawford) is a workhorse system dragging a cart overflowing with resources to actually run the game. You don't have to be flashy to have style. 

But the topic that got me thinking about this is a dilemma on how I run games. 

On the one hand, I like the idea that GMs don't need to spend hours ahead of a game rigorously preparing an adventure, showing up with reams of notes. 

On the other, one of the first two ideals of what would become Into the Odd were:

  • An impartial GM. The GM uses the rules provided to challenge the characters and does not alter the situation to aid or hinder them.
  • Adventure Module compatibility. The game assumes the GM is using a pre-planned environment and hazards, whether their own or by another writer. 

So I've long been drawn to the idea that the world exists outside of the GM at the table, and they act as an impartial representative for the world, rather than spinning it at the table as required.

Naturally, I've usually landed somewhere in the middle. I prep in broad strokes, flesh it out at the table, throw in something new if it feels right, and make liberal use of random tables. 

The Blorb principles got me thinking more closely about how I might be able to acknowledge the distinction between the pre-game prep and in-game improvisation, while still drawing on them both for any given session. 

So this is all very messy at the moment, but I feel like it's starting to form a shape.

  • Prep can be in broad strokes. 
  • Details can be improvised, but must honour the essence of those strokes. 
  • If something must be created at the table from nothing, let the dice be the oracle.

 

Wednesday, 18 May 2022

Forest

This Bastionland Editorial was originally sent as a reward to all Patreon supporters, and is released freely on this site a week after its original publication.

If you want to support my blog, podcasts, and video content then head over to my Patreon.

-----------------------------

The Forest 

Roots deeper than soil, farther than sea
No passage is swift, no figments believed 



Travel

  • The forest knows what happens anywhere else in the forest.
  • All forests are connected.
  • Some of the most dangerous and feared individuals end up imprisoned or entombed here.

The Fearmonger in Wood
STR 17, DEX 16, CHA 12, 3hp
Encased in rune-carved wood (A2 against metal)
Crushing grasp (d10) or cloud of spores (everyone in blast loses their speech until they leave the forest) 

  • Wants to cultivate a healthy fear of the forest and have word spread beyond.
  • Takes any form they wish with elements of deer, owl, boar, and mouse.
  • Can call upon woodland creatures for aid and hurry along the seasons, but is outranked by the old trees.  

The Verdant Maze

Place
1: Entwined Wall of Trunks and Roots
2: Mossy Stone Pile
3: Descent into Damp Earth
4: Leafy Clearing
5: Tree Bridge
6: Trailway

Omen
1: Riders Approaching
2: Frantic Movement in the Branches
3: Twisting in the Roots
4: Fading Light
5: Rising Mist
6: Watching Eyes


Wednesday, 11 May 2022

Graphene

This Bastionland Editorial was originally sent as a reward to all Patreon supporters, and is released freely on this site a week after its original publication.

If you want to support my blog, podcasts, and video content then head over to my Patreon.

-----------------------------

I love rules-lite systems, but I'm recently moving toward rules that are light but strong

Rules like Graphene. 


Light systems are often praised for how they "get out of the way" once you hit the table. The players don't have to spend a lot of time and energy on the rules themselves, so they channel it into the other parts of the game instead: exploring the environment, making their characters memorable, and good old fashioned problem solving. 

This is something I've always strived for with my own games, but I've started to feel a dissatisfaction when the rules feel completely absent. 

It's a difficult balance to describe. I don't want the GM or players to have to think too much about the cogs and gears of the system, but I want those few mechanical parts to be a more solid presence on the game. 

Reaction and morale rolls in D&D are the classic example here. They don't really add much complexity that you need to hold in mind, but they have a major impact in the way your dungeon crawl plays. Now those Gnolls want to talk to you, and you've got to decide what to do when the Ghouls start to flee toward the dragon cave. Of course the GM could just make those things happen, but it feels different when it comes from a rule rather than a ruling. 

The best anti-example would be one of those systems where you have a dozen +1s and -1s to keep track of, but they usually balance out to some inconsequential modifier that doesn't even affect the majority of possible rolls. Similarly, there are those fiddly little rules that you sometimes forget to use in play... then realise that in forgetting them nothing was really lost. Those are always the most satisfying parts to chop out of a work-in-progress game.

But this desire for strong rules goes further than that. Maybe they're stronger even than the GM. Maybe Rule Zero is losing its shine for me. RULES NOT RULINGS!?

Well, no. I like games that empower the GM, but I want the game to have a power of its own. Just like how you obviously shouldn't fudge the dice, maybe the strength of the fiction and the agency of the players are both enhanced if the rules cannot be broken. 

I suppose this is all adjacent my thoughts on those 3 Tiers of Truth. I've had a lot of fun with loose games that hardly engage with the rules and are mostly improvised at the table, so perhaps I'm just craving something more solid as a contrast. The grounded, impartial, almost sim-like feel of a high-crunch game without the brain melting complexity. 

It might be a futile quest, but I'm going to keep searching for that Graphene.