Friday 18 December 2009

And what if the adventurers don't save the day?

Roll on the following table whenever the adventurers do not save the day.

1: Noone saves the day and the bad thing happens as expected.
2: Someone known by the adventurers tries to save the day instead but fails horribly, dying in the process.
3: Someone known by the adventurers tries to save the day but fails, barely escaping with their lives.
4: Somehow things just work themselves out and nothing bad happens afterall.
5: Some other adventurers save the day and become local heroes.
6: As luck would have it the adventurers are presented with a second chance to save the day!

Tuesday 17 November 2009

Creature Collection Preview

Today's the day I throw out a sneak preview of my tentatively titled Creature Collection for The Adventurer's Tale. I wanted to keep the monster list in the core game quite pure so this is where I've been able to mess around with some more unusual enemies. Here are a pair of new Undead minions. Put them to use in your Adventurer's Tale game!

These creatures resemble bald, bloated dwarfs, usually found waddling around the lairs of their vampire masters. They serve without question, usually carrying out menial tasks, acting as lookouts and being disposable sources of blood when the need arises. Creating a Bloodling is a process that only a vampire can carry out and involves biting a captured victim in a particular way while casting a Command spell. This causes them to swell with blood and become completely at the command of their master.
Body 5
Melee 3, Shooting 3, Craft 2, Grace 2
Crossbow (Damage 3) and Dagger (Damage 2).
Blood Sacrifice: A Bloodling may fly into a combat rage, adding 2 to their Melee score for a single engagement. In doing so they exert themselves so much that they explode in a splatter of blood as soon as the engagement is complete. Usually they only use this technique when their master is in direct danger.
Variety: The blood splatter of some Bloodlings may carry disease or even burn an opponent's skin for a point of damage. Vampires with military backgrounds often train their Bloodlings in the use of a larger variety of weapons and armour.

Floating Corpse
Dark Wizards may create these horrors without the exertion required in creating a mass of zombies or skeletons. These rotting corpses float upright a few inches off the ground, making no sound as they patrol a set area or head towards a given point. If patrolling they will turn and float towards any intruders they notice, unable to attack, but often serving as a deterrent for inexperienced intruders. When they reach their target they do nothing but helplessly bump against them, hoping to provoke enough of a noise to alert the real guards.
Body 6
Lifeless Hang: Floating corpses cannot cause damage. If they hit an opponent they bump into them lightly, perhaps shedding some rotten flesh on them. Note that engagements with a Floating Corpses still count towards Combat Fatigue.
Variety: Some Floating Corpses are able to pass on curses or diseases with a touch, with others bursting into flames upon contact with living flesh.

And perhaps something larger, if that's to your tastes...

Spider Dragon
These towering horrors would seem to be prime examples of a wizard's experiment gone wrong. They are, in fact, natural creatures predating even Dragons, which they are unrelated to. Forced to the surface from their home deep beneath the ground they have developed a taste for cattle and slowly gained tolerance to sunlight. They resemble pale, gigantic six-legged spiders with a hideous head sporting beady eyes and an unfolding jaw bristling with teeth. No one has ever been known to tame one of these beasts or find a nest of young.
Body 20
Melee 12, Grace 2.
Leg Claws (Damage 4), Chitin (count as Heavy Armour).
Burning Spray: Damage 3 and reduces Body by 1 until healed, Hits 1d6-3 targets at the start of the dragon's turn. Targets can dodge this with a DN10 Grace roll. A spider dragon may do this once every hour.
Web Wrap: A Wild Dragon deals 2 extra points of damage on a Critical Hit, rather than 1. If this would cause their opponent to roll on the Death Table the Spider Dragon will (if they are cow-sized or smaller) wrap them in webbing and later devour them.

Wednesday 26 August 2009

One Page? I can do that (sort of)

A couple of days ago I was linked to Searchers of the Unknown, which is a one-page trimming-down of classic D&D. Despite being dubious about its limitations and holding on to descending AC at first I soon found both of these were good things.

Firstly the limitations meant you had very little to consider, as a player, mechanically. We encountered a pit very early on and rather than rolling athletics to leap over it we went back and unscrewed a door, using it as a makeshift bridge. This is extremely basic D&D stuff, but it felt so much more encouraged with such a minimal ruleset.

Secondly, descending Armour Class actually made sense for the first time. It was a roll-under target for attacks and was used for things like sneaking in a way that made the smaller=better idea actually fit.

Not to be outdone, I remembered that I had my own very-light system, The Adventurer's Tale. Although this game is very simple in itself the document is still pretty large with the optional rules, monsters and spells. Could I trim the core of it down to one sheet? I could. All the rules for creating an adventurer and playing the game are on the front of the sheet, with the back filled with spells and monsters for characters to encounter.

So here's the Adventurer's Tale One-Sheet Quickstart. Grab a few friends and run a pickup game today!

Wednesday 22 July 2009


I'll level with you. This game idea is almost entirely inspired by the Street Fighter movie with Jean Claude Van Damme and Raul Julia that everyone hated. I can say without a hint of irony that I thoroughly enjoy this film. Yes, the characters mostly bear no resemblence to their videogame counterparts. Yes, they're mostly awful characters even if you forgive the first point. But something about the film just keeps me entertained from start to finish.

With that in mind I wanted to play around with creating a game where you could take that concept of martial artists fighting off mobs of masked soldiers before going toe to toe with the boss but draw it a little closer to the videogames that inspired it. Yes, in this game I'd like my hero to be able to throw a fireball or two.

All very preliminary. The idea is little more than 30 minutes old but FreeMind has drained the words from my brain and I present them infront of you in a foetal stage.

Free Image Hosting at

Stay tuned for what will inevitably turn into another game document. I should clarify I'm aware of a few RPGs out there that tackle this subject matter, but none of them have really grabbed me. Besides, more game design practice is never something I shy away from.

Monday 6 July 2009

100 Interesting Magic Items: The first half.

Here's the first half of a nice handy d100 table for what I think to be interesting magic items. I'll describe the effects for each but leave out anything system specific for you to fill in yourself.

Hope you enjoy!

  1. Aardvark Cloak: This cloak may be thrown around the wearer to wrap them in a protective shell. They cannot move or act while inside the shell other than returning the cloak to its normal form, but while protected they are unable to be hurt in any way.
  2. All-Seasons Scabbard: As long as a sword is kept in this scabbard the wearer suffers no ill effects from extreme weather.
  3. Angel Dart: If a target is whispered to the dart it may be thrown into the air, where it will fly to the target and hit it without error, regardless of distance or obstacles. The tiny dart causes no damage itself.
  4. Aqua Grease: This pale grease can be rubbed over any equipment to completely protect it against damage from water exposure.
  5. Amulet of Silence: Nothing within a foot of the holder of this amulet can cause any sound at all.
  6. Broken Dagger: This incredibly ornate dagger is snapped in half partway down the blade and is not able to be repaired by any means at all.
  7. Bell of the Crier: As long as the holder is ringing this hand-bell their voice will carry across great distances and be audible by all within a mile.
  8. Boat of Murder: If a corpse is placed in this small rowboat it will drift out on the water and return an hour later, empty. There will be no trace of the corpse anywhere and no evidence left in the boat.
  9. Bat Sword: If this sword is tapped against something hard it rings out a tone. This allows the wielder to see in the dark or smoke as well as they can in daylight.
  10. Crystal Ship: This miniature ship is beautifuly crafted and valuable, but if it is ever taken on board a ship that ship will sink before its voyage is completed.
  11. Coin Beetle: A normal looking coin. However, at night it comes to life and eats one other coin it can find, before disguising itself as a coin once again.
  12. Chalice of Moods: Anyone drinking from this cup must roll. On 1-3 they remember something sad from their past and their mood drops. On 4-6 they feel a new vigor for life and start to smile.
  13. Candle Beans: If one of these beans is bitten or pinched firmly it will glow for a few seconds before igniting in a low flame, much like a candle. It will burn for around ten seconds before going out and leaving a faint trail of smoke.
  14. Digging Spoon: This tiny spoon can dig through any substance with a forceful push.
  15. Death Drum: Anyone that bangs this drum thirteen times or more will die.
  16. Dogpack Tooth: If this tooth is pressed into someone's gums it will take root and allow the owner to speak with dogs and wolves.
  17. Diving Pearl: If a target is named and the pearl dropped into a body of water it will sink and move towards the target and latch onto it, returning it to the pearl's owner. The pearl cannot move objects larger than a person.
  18. Dustbane Broom: This broom not only brushes away dust, twigs and other leavings, but removes them from existance. This cannot be used to destroy other unwanted items, only things that would normally be swept up.
  19. Elephant Bread: This grey bread tastes faintly meaty and is incredibly filling.
  20. Eternal Chessboard: Anyone playing chess with this set cannot win or lose a match. It simply goes on and on no matter how many moves the players take.
  21. Ether Flute: Playing this flute causes any ghosts or spirits to freeze, mesmerised.
  22. Engraving Quill: This quill can engrave messages onto any substance.
  23. Fisherman's Blanket: This blanket will become dry with a quick shake, regardless of how wet it is, and is always faintly warm.
  24. Frog Box: If this box is left open near to a frog it will be compelled to hop in and sit there happily. The frog will stay in the box without needing food, air or water, until instruted to hop out.
  25. Firey Ring: If a container of food or liquid is held in the hand bearing this ring it will slowly heat up. Within a minute it will be boiling, but the container will still be safe to hold.
  26. Frost Thread: If this thread is dangled into a body of water it will freeze at the rate of around one pint per minute. Once the thread is removed it will start to thaw.
  27. Fingerless Gloves: Anyone that puts on these gloves feels a faint tingling in their fingers. An hour later it will be uncomfortable cramps. A further hour later, intense pain. At this point, if the gloves are removed their fingers will magically disappear.
  28. Grey Paste: This pot of watery paste can be eaten, acting as both food and water, but tastes a little like ash. The pot magically refills with grey paste every night.
  29. Golden Mule: A tiny golden statue of a mule. Anyone carrying this may carry twice as much weight as normal.
  30. Howling Horn: This horn makes a very convincing howling noise, like that of a wolf.
  31. Happiness Beads: Anyone wearing these beads feels a little happier than when they're not wearing them.
  32. Hidden Sword: If this sword is tucked behind a robe or cloak it will not be found by anyone searching for it other than the person that hid it there.
  33. Inspection Lens: Peering through this small lens reveals the true value of any jewels, gems or other art items.
  34. Ice Diamond: This diamond is found sumberged in crushed ice in a specially sealed box. If it is removed from the ice it will gradually change over the next minute until it resembles a grey pebble. If submerged in crushed ice again it will quickly return to its diamond appearance.
  35. Juggler's Balls: If thrown these balls will always make their way back to the thrower's hand before hitting the ground.
  36. Jump Rope: When told to jump, this rope coils like a spring and bounces upwards twenty feet, carrying up to one passenger with it.
  37. Jinxed Axe: This handaxe functions normally in melee but if thrown it will hit an ally if you miss your target.
  38. Kindred Bracelets: When two people are wearing one of these bracelets each they are always aware of when the other is in life-threatening danger.
  39. Karma Vase: Filling this Vase with expensive drink will cause it to drain away, but cure any ailments or damage affecting the pourer. Breaking the vase will kill the breaker.
  40. Kingsblood Weed: Boiling this weed produces tea that will taste delicious to anyone of royal blood but foul to anyone that isn't.
  41. Life Eating Sapphire: Whenever anyone holding this sapphire in one hand kills another being of above animal-level intelligence it glows and swells, increasing its value by 5%.
  42. Leech Dust: Scattering this dust over a wound will clean it and drain any poison from it.
  43. Longstride Breeches: Anyone wearing these red breeches will never become tired from walking.
  44. Lion Gauntlet: This awkward steel gauntlet has a lion's head at the end in place of fingers. When the jaw hinge is moved from inside it makes a convincing lion's roar. The hand inside the gauntlet can't be used for anything else.
  45. Madman's Blanket: Anyone sleeping under this blanket will have horrible, maddening nightmares.
  46. Moon Rock: This rock has a strange feeling and is a weird yellow-grey colour. Any inspection suggests magical properties but infact it's completely mundane.
  47. Marble Man: This statue comes to life when touched, functioning much as a normal servant would. It is only as strong as a normal human and can carry out any basic function it is taught the word for. It cannot speak, run or fight and if struck with a blow will fall to the ground and shatter into pieces.
  48. Master's Ring: This ring causes a faint tingling sensation whenever one of the wearer's employees, servants or hirelings is planning to betray them in some way.
  49. Map of the Head: The holder of this map may look over it when trying to remember something they witnessed while carrying the map. Within a minute of looking at it they will remember, even to the smallest detail.
  50. Money Belt: Any amount of money may be pressed into a small slot on the front of this belt. The money can be retrieved by tapping it three times and announcing how much is required. This will even cause larger coins to be converted into change for specific amounts.

To be continued...

Wednesday 17 June 2009

Fantasy Boyscouts and Resurrecting Old Projects

Been a while since my last post, so time for a quick update on what I've been working on. 

  • Working on Lookouts adaptation of The Adventurer's Tale after being truly inspired by one of Penny Arcade's latest projects.
  • Being wowed by another awesome map from the Tao of D&D
  • Scouring my contacts for someone with good pdf layout skills and a little free time they're willing to offer up to help me finally turn A Wanderer's Romance into a nice pdf
  • Realising more and more that Greywulf speaks a lot of sense
  • Considering bringing Inheritance back onto a front burner to see if I can improve it significantly and eventually have a completed document for mechanics and fluff

It's the last of these things I want to talk about today.

Back when I spoke about Inheritance in January there were two main areas I felt needed improvement. Firstly the setting needed to be made more accessible and presented alongside the rules in the document rather than seperate in a wiki. I have an idea for how to do this, but it can wait for now while I deal with a more mechanical issue. This second problem was that combat options mostly consisted of "attack" or specialist options like disarm, grapple, charge and so on. I wanted to present more options for character that just wanted to hack away. In addition to this issue there was often a rather high "whiff factor", which I've come to hate in games. Here's how I plan to tackle both of these, without going too far into specific Inheritance mechanics.

Attack Focuses

At the start of a character's turn they may choose an Attack Focus if they wish. This will provide both a bonus and a penalty in combat.

Speed: The character gains a +1PL bonus to their Initiative roll but suffers -1PL to hit on all attacks.

Damage: The character gains a +1PL bonus to Damage rolls but a -1PL penalty to their Initiative roll.

Accuracy: The characters gains a +1PL bonus to hit on all attacks but suffers -1PL to Damage rolls

The desired effect of this is that if a character is whiffing a lot in combat, be it through missing or being unable to hurt a target, they can shift their focus as required. On the other hand, it needn't slow down play as the DM is advised to not use them for NPCs and Monsters and even the players can ignore them if they wish. 

Bring on a playtest!

Thursday 28 May 2009

Invisible Eyes made Visible

Well, I've teased at this for two posts now, so it's finally time to unveil my new game in its first stage. Far from complete and pretty much untested, here's Invisible Eyes.

My target was to hit a couple of design goals I've been mulling over for a while. 

  • Make Exploration and Travel key elements of the game.
  • Have very little focus on combat and replace rewards for killing with consequences.
  • Use a real-world modern setting that can be "spiced" to the GM's liking through conspiracy theories and supernatural happenings.
  • Encourage teamwork in as many areas of gameplay as possible, while not making a small group unplayable. 

As it stands it seems like I'm hitting all four. Exploration is the name of the game, as is pushed through the sample character, sample groups and gameplay examples. Investigation goes hand in hand with exploration and the Knowledge and Insight mechanic makes this a focus of the game too, somewhat supported by the Connections all characters have (explained later). Travel is enforced through the parkour-inspired movement mechanics and the fact you're going to doing a lot of sneaking-in and  running-away.

There's very little reward for combat. The hostiles you're likely to encounter will be security staff or policemen, if you follow the suggestions in the document. Leaving dead innocents wherever you go is going to make you public enemy number one, not desirable for supposed "invisibles". What's more, combat can be nasty, especially against someone you're outclassed by. It's not a matter of getting killed in one hit, but if a trained security guard catches up with you and he's probably going to pull you to the ground and put on the cuffs. In many ways a breaking and entering charge is scarier than death for a PC. Finally, there's a Shock mechanic that means you don't want to be constantly being shot at unless you have a steady mind and a good psychiatrist.

Teamwork is encouraged most simply through the Helping mechanic, which can literally be a lifesaver. However, a couple of secondary methods enforce it further such as every character having connections. These connections mean that even in a solo game the character will have some friends to call in favours from. In addition, starting characters have a relatively small pool of points to put into Stats and Expertise. This encourages specialisation and means a group are likely to have  a variety of personnel that depend on each other in certain area.

As always, the game is free, but remember this document is little over two days old. Changes will be frequent and there are sure to be lots of mistakes riddled through. It's good enough to get across what I want out of the game, though, so check it out.

Invisible Eyes Tease

I mentioned in my previous post that I've started work on a new project. I recently finished up the opening bite of fluff to set the mood for the game, based on the help of a friendly contributor. 

The voice rang. A siren in this silence, a whisper in my ear.
"If we're to get out of this, we need to get up there".
The floor cracking beneath our pursuers forced our plans into action. Up I go, the wooden beams under one foot, my backup's hand under the other.
We're up.
Finding a path in this mess of a dilapidated structure isn't easy, but I'm searching. My nimble feet barely catch the splintered ledges. Then the heavy steps of my counterpart. His heavy boots crush the tiny barbs. The darkness around us disturbed by scanning flashlights.
We ascend higher.
The structure is weak up here. We are surrounded. A look to each other and in a spiralling duet we jump. Explorers, going where even demons fear to tread.

And I'll only answer one question on the game today, fully explaining things in tomorrow's post. Who are the players?

Example Operations

Invisible Eyes:
This guerrilla journalist group promote themselves as the necessary eyes of the public, exposing secrets and corruption wherever they find it. Whether the general public believe their paranoia-filled newsletters is another matter.

City University Paranormal Society:
Students of a variety of subjects gather to discuss supernatural activity. Their expeditions are most commonly led to the woods and caves outside the city, following the frequent UFO and ghost reports.

The Wet-necks:
Adventurous people of all sorts meet on this online community dedicated to exploring the storm sewers beneath the city, also expanding into other underground networks.

This popular TV show involves its three presenters heading into areas rumoured to be haunted or contain cryptids to disprove their existence live on air.

Archo-Mythic Investigations:
Retired Cambridge archeology professor Irving Brown has near unparalleled knowledge of historic and mythological artifacts. He and his small team now dedicate their lives to ensuring those that have found their way into the wrong hands end up safely on display in a museum.

Who would you like to be?

Wednesday 27 May 2009

Another New Project

Another new game has taken over my brain. I'll be posting about it in more detail after I've worked on it a little more, but for now I'll summarise it with four pictures.

It's this sort of place...

Being explored by people that can do this...

With the teamwork of...

And the occasional thing that might interest...

It could be fun! More about it soon.

Saturday 2 May 2009

Skullados, a 30 minute MS Paint RPG

An RPG designed in 30 minutes using only MS Paint. Who'll join in the challenge?

Behold, Skullados. 

Addition: This is too addictive.

The Restless Dead of Redway

I mentioned in a previous post that I'm after groups to test The Adventurer's Tale. As a further treat to lure in testers I'm going to provide all you need for a quickstart adventure in the game, right here in a blogpost. Expect little in the way of plot, but an immediate action-filled starting point for a group wanting to dive in.

The Restless Dead of Redway

Redway is a village of no more than a hundred people. Its exact location is unimportant but it will have Woods to the North and a main road leading in from the plains to the South. The adventurers should all have a reason to be entering the village some time after sunset. They could be returning home or stopping by on their travels. 

Upon entering Redway, from the bottom of the map below, the adventurers will not find a living soul. Instead they will face an immediate encounter rolled on the Wandering Zombie table found further below.

Village map, shamelessly taken from elsewhere. Just rub the serial numbers off. 

The buildings not labelled are family homes, all others will be suitably outfitted for their purpose listed. Each building will have 1d6 Treasure that can be salvaged from it. Roll each time the adventurers enter or leave a building. On a 1-3 they will roll on the Wandering Zombie table found further below. On 6 they will find a survivor (Body 4, Craft 2) that will provide a little insight into the situation. Roll once on the Survivor Insight table found further below.

Wandering Zombie Table

1: 1 Hulk

2: 1d6 Chargers and 1d6 Hounds

3: 1d6 Shamblers and 1d6 Crows

4: 1 Lurker

5: 1 Tearer and 1d6 Shamblers

6: 2d6 Shamblers

Immediately after any Wandering Zombie encounter is completed make a roll. On a 1 the noise has attracted the Zombie Horde. Roll below immediately and have the Horde rolled emerge.

Zombie Horde Table

1: 2d6 Shamblers, 1d6 Lurkers and 1 Tearer

2: 3d6 Shamblers and 2d6 Crows

3: 3d6 Chargers and 1 Tearer

4: 1d6 Hounds, 1d6 Chargers and 1 Hulk

5: 1d6 Lurkers and 2d6 Crows

6: 5d6 Shamblers and 1 Tearer

The GM should keep track of the number of human zombies that are killed. If this ever exceeds 100 then Redway has been cleaned out completely, now just another abandoned town filled with corpses.

Survivor Insight

1: This survivor can do nothing but babble nonsense. 

2: The survivor tells the adventurers how their family were brutally killed, in horrible detail. Other than that, they know nothing.

3: This survivor can only babble about this being the work of "her" and will attempt to flee from the adventurers at every opportunity. 

4: This survivor has no immediate insight, but if asked about the Black Hag they will reveal that she is known to live in the woods to the north.

5: The survivor is quite mad, but will babble about the Black Hag of the woods constantly. 

6: The survivor reveals that a hag living in the northern forest was seen lurking around the village outskirts recently. They suspect this is the work of her!

Forbidden Knowledge

Any adventurer may attempt a DN7 Wisdom test to recognise the weakness of the Zombies, specifically that they are killed by being beheaded or having their bodies utterly destroyed. 

The Zombies

Zombie Shambler

The most pathetic of zombiekind. They seem to have retained no intelligence at all and simple walk slowly towards any survivors in great numbers.
Body 3
Melee 1
Claws and Bite (Damage 2)
Relentless: A zombie ignores any non-critical hits that cause less than 4 Damage. Critical hits damage the Zombie as normal.
Arise: Roll when the zombie is killed without being beheaded or utterly destroyed. On a 6 it immediately rises again, but this time any damage will kill it permanently.

Zombie Charger

Rather than shambling forwards, these zombies hurl themselves forward at great speeds, leaping onto their prey. 
Body 3
Melee 2, Grace 2
Claws and Bite (Damage 2)
Relentless: A zombie ignores any non-critical hits that cause less than 4 Damage. Critical hits damage the Zombie as normal.
Arise: Roll when the zombie is killed without being beheaded or utterly destroyed. On a 6 it immediately rises again, but this time any damage will kill it permanently.

Zombie Tearer

Some bodies react violently to becoming a zombie, their muscles swelling and bone claws sprouting from their hands. Other zombies instinctively gather around them due to their knack for finding victims.
Body 6
Melee 4, Awareness 4
Claws and Bite (Damage 3)
Relentless: A zombie ignores any non-critical hits that cause less than 4 Damage. Critical hits damage the Zombie as normal.
Arise: Roll as soon as the Tearer is killed. On a 6 the body twitches and spasms as it grows into a Zombie Hulk, recovering all Damage.

Zombie Lurker

These Zombies have retained some of their human cunning and survival instinct, preferring to strike from the shadows with throwing axes or rocks.
Body 3
Melee 1, Shooting 2. Grace 3
Claws and Bite (Damage 2), Improvised Thrown Weapon (Damage 2, Ranged)
Relentless: A zombie ignores any non-critical hits that cause less than 4 Damage. Critical hits damage the Zombie as normal.
Arise: Roll when the zombie is killed without being beheaded or utterly destroyed. On a 6 it immediately rises again, but this time any damage will kill it permanently.

Zombie Hulk

A Zombie Tearer that survives long enough will go through a second phase as a huge, hulking beast up to twelve feet tall. These will do little more than rampage around the area, smashing walls and any survivors they encounter. Other zombies know to give these horrors some space.
Body 14
Melee 4
Pounding Fists (Damage 4)
Relentless: A zombie ignores any non-critical hits that cause less than 4 Damage. Critical hits damage the Zombie as normal.

Zombie Hound

Not only humans were affected by the zombie curse. These dogs appear at first to be rabid, living beasts, but a look into their red eyes reveals their true nature. 
Body 3
Melee 1, Awareness 3, Grace 3.
Bite (Damage 2)
Pack Attack: A hound deals an extra point of Damage when he hits an opponent that has been engaged by one or more Warhounds since their last turn.

Zombie Crows

Picking at the flesh of zombies turns many crows into flying corpses, leaving a trail of feathers as they flap. They follow zombies so that they can scavenge on their kills, sometimes descending on the victims to aid in their death.
Body 1
Grace 5, Awareness 4
Beak and Claws (Damage 1)
Distract: If there are any Zombie Crows next to a character they subtract 1 from any combat rolls. 

At the end of any encounter, secretly roll for each adventurer that took damage from a zombie. On a 1 they are unknowingly effected. Roll again after each encounter, or every hour. On a 1 they turn into a Shambler, on a 2 a Charger and on a 3 a Tearer. On a 4-6 they do not turn yet.

A DN8 Wisdom test will identify an infected adventurer, who can be cured by any form of magical healing. Even if they are unaware of the infection, magical healing will remove it.

Anyone killed by a zombie will arise as one within a matter of minutes.

The Black Hag

This curse is, in fact, the work of a Hag living in the forest just to the North of Redway. If the adventurers head into these woods they will soon find her and she will happily boast about the success of her curse on the village. Her motive in doing so is little more than jealousy, after being cast out from the village as a child for her deformation and wicked nature.
If the Black Hag is killed the curse is lifted and all zombies will immediately fall to the ground as corpses. Anyone infected, but not yet turned, will immediately recover. 

A black robe and hood covers the deformed face of the Hag, hunched over a gnarled staff. If attacked she will point her staff at her opponents and attempt her Mind Stab. If the fight turns against her she will attempt to fly away to safety using her magic. 
Body 4
Melee 3, Awareness 3, Grace 3, Wisdom 6
Staff (Damage 2, counts as shield in Melee), 3d6 Treasure.
Spells: Tongues, Mind Stab, Flight, Magic Strike

This is a very quick and dirty adventure, so it's ripe for a little expansion or customisation from a GM.
Enjoy and do your best to survive. 

Wednesday 29 April 2009

A Call to Arms

A quick post to shamelessly push my recruitment drive for playtest groups for The Adventurer's Tale. I've spoken about it in previous posts and it's now at the point where I'm eager to get it tested out by as many GMs as possible. 

Full details are available on two of the forums you're probably familiar with and feedback can be sent by way through either of them.

Give it a try with some friends and let me know!

Monday 20 April 2009

Brief Thoughts on Monster Design

Now with more stealth-links. 

As I've been tweaking monsters for The Adventurer's Tale I've decided to post the key points I've been keeping in mind for each monster, each of which consists of one paragraph of text followed by the data.

  • Why would the adventurers be fighting this?
  • How does this monster behave when the adventurers encounter it?
  • What are its relationships with some other monsters?
  • How can the GM easily adjust this monster to make it more or less powerful, or simply different?
  • Does this monster really need its own entry?

And I'm going to briefly expand on the last point. I mentioned in a previous post about races that I didn't like Gnomes and Hobbits barging in on what I felt should be Dwarfish traits. The same can be said for monsters. Especially when combined with the fourth point about making my monsters tweakable from the ground up, this allows me to have a great selection of classic monsters in a more compact list. Examples below:

  • Sprites: One monster entry for pixies, brownies, (real) gnomes and even gremlins. Simply make pixies more agile and give them wings, give gnomes a higher Craft stat and give Gremlins the goblin dodge ability that makes them extra slippery and mischievous. 
  • Beastmen: This entry covers your warhammer style goatmen, hyena-like gnolls and even stretches to ratmen and lizardman. The last two being more sneaky (higher Grace and maybe some Rogue perks) and tougher (scales counting as light or heavy armour) respectively. 
  • Chimera: You've got your lion/goat/dragon chimera here as well as Griffons, Hippogriffs and Manticores. Minor differences between them are noted but really one entry covers large, ferocious, winged beasts like these. Tone down its Melee stat and Damage and you could pull off a Pegasus if you need one.
  • Giants: Here you have a base for your standard hill giant that can easily be altered into an ettin or cyclops. In addition, Ogres are really little more than small cave giants, so they're part of this monster too. Simply knock some Body off your Giant to trim him down to Ogre size. 
  • Ooze Blob: This covers all sorts of ooze. Really, coming up with your own twist on them is so easy!

It's all in aid of stressing that there is no definitive statblock for an Orc. Some of them will be tougher than others, some better at fighting, some might even be smart. If you're the GM use the monster stats given as a guideline and tweak them however you like! That's exactly what this system is designed for. There's a reason there are no levels or challenge ratings provided! (a topic for another day)

Yet somehow I still have three different types of dragon... hypocrisy at its finest.

Use This - A Hero and his Squire

This encounter could fit into most fantasy systems but is presented here for the recently renamed The Adventurer's Tale (formerly Underworld and Overworld). 

Flash Zubnatz - Goblin Hero

The words Goblin and Hero might not be seen next to eachother too often, but even these wicked creatures have folk heroes that would even inspire humans.

Flash has spent his life travelling from one goblin settlement to another, establishing his legacy by slaying threats to goblinkind. He shot the cave-drake at Biterzpeak, drove off the ghouls of Foulnut Forest and protected the goblins of Scummer's Bay from a rampaging sea giant. All with his crossbow and winning smile. Indeed, there has rarely been a goblin as charismatic as Flash. Even orcs have been known to be impressed by his presence.

Flash Zubnatz (Rogue)

Body 4

Shooting 7, Grace 4, Awareness 2, Melee 2

Dodge: A goblin that rolls a 5 or 6 on a combat roll will never be hit. Critical Hit bypasses.

Precision: Adds an extra two points of Damage on Critical Hits when using a weapon with Damage 3 or less. 

Crossbow (Damage 3), Two Daggers (Damage 2), Light Armour.

Flash is rarely seen without his squire and travelling partner, Bontukz. Lacking any of the charisma of Flash he mostly spends his life carrying Flash's crossbow, pointing out targets and patching up his wounds. After a few drinks he might mutter about how his spells are the real power behind Flash.

Bontukz (Scholar)

Body 4

Wisdom 5, Craft 4, Awareness 3, Grace 3, Melee2

Dodge: A goblin that rolls a 5 or 6 on a combat roll will never be hit. Critical Hit bypasses.

Spells: Guidance and Hold.

Staff, Dagger and Spyglass.

Upon spotting their target, Bontukz will hand Flash his crossbow and try to hold the enemy in place with Hold. While Flash lines up his shot, usually aiming for a Vital Strike, Bontukz will use Guidance to help him achieve a killing shot. 

Flash's reaction to adventurers will depend upon their reputation. If he doesn't know of them he'll greet them cautiously, from a distance. However, if they are known goblin killers he'll see them as potential kills to add to his heroic legacy. 

Saturday 11 April 2009

Dwarfs in a Sandbox Update

I'm getting very excited about the sandbox game I'm starting next week using Underworld and Overworld

There are some great resources out there for running a sandbox game. I've summarised the three most important considerations for this game below.

Create Situations not Plots

In preparing for the game I've planned out a chunk of a world where the dwarfs can roam. There are some hooks here and there but no "main plot" planned out. Most hooks come in the form of places to explore and looming threats rather than an innkeeper asking you to find his hat some goblins stole. I like the tip I heard somewhere, "plot hooks not plot hammers".
A hook can be ignored or saved for later, a hammer is going to be much more focused on pushing you in a particular direction. I'm hoping the map I've provided is already suggesting a hook or two before we've even started.

I Cannot Control the World Fully

Sure to be a contentious point. I've poured my heart into creating the world and have tried to design it in a way that will give the players a great experience, but once they step into it I'm not going to have complete control of it. It's all laid out, populated with threats and scattered with hooks and treasures. Many of these will appear when the dice decide, rather than I. If the players wander into the Underworld and are finding it too hard or too easy I have no intention of tweaking it on the fly. I also know there are some random encounters noted down that will be dangerous stuff.

By no means will I try and kill the characters but I won't tone them down the hazards when things get tough. I'm hoping I've planned such places in a way that they'll be sufficiently aware of the threat, though. One thing that always bugged me about Oblivion was that monsters would scale their power level to however powerful the player character was at that point. I'm standing on the other extreme of the scale with this game. 

A Good Map will provide Hooks

I always love a game with a great map. I want to see interesting looking locations and see some intriguing places named. I remember when I first played Link to the Past I opened up the map and decided I wanted to go and explore the Swamp Ruins. They weren't relevant to the main plot until later in the game but I still headed there and took a look around because what's not to like? Swamps are cool and Ruins are cool. 

I'm hoping the map for the starting area of my campaign will do the same.

A larger version can be enjoyed here. Good old Hexmapper.

Tuesday 7 April 2009

An All-Dwarf Adventure and Dave's Legacy

A quick edit here. It seems reports of co-creator of D&D, Dave Arneson, dying weren't true. However, it sounds like he's still in a weak condition, so I'm going to leave the links to blogs posting their tributes here, as it's still a great time to learn about the man. Certainly no need to halt the further spreading of his legacy. 

Now onto the game I'm currently preparing for. An all-dwarf sandbox using Underworld and Overworld. Today I want to talk about the decision to make it all-dwarf.

I think the non-human races in fantasy often get a hard deal. It's no secret they tend to be little more than single-culture archetypes and anything differing from that often gets its own race. Look at the short folk of D&D and most generic fantasy. Gnomes, Dwarves and Hobbits/Halflings. You've got your magically-inclined excentric gadgeteer race, the gruff, underground miner-warrior race and the peaceful pipe-smoking but brave race with the odd burglar.

I'm mashing them all into dwarfs for this game and I think the race will be better because of it.

All of the traits mentioned can fit onto a dwarf with no problem at all. Now instead of a race where everyone's an ale-drinking axeman you have a race where a settlement is likely to include all sort of characters. Not to mention a race where different settlements might play more to certain racial tropes than others.

Of course, we still have the usual good-evil seperation that plagues non-humans in fantasy. I don't want dark-dwarves, deep-dwarves, derro or whatever you want to call them. Of course there might be settlements that have a reputation for being greedy but it's not part of their DNA. Perhaps it's just a stereotype or perhaps something about that settlement attracts the greedy type. On the flipside even your peaceful pipe-smoking dwarf hamlet might have one or two dwarfs that... well, are just dicks.

This is a theme I want to carry through to the rest of the races in this game. Orcs, Hobgoblins, Uruk-Hai, Half-Orcs... bleh. An orc that lives underground, an orc that's part of a well trained army and an orc that's trying to fit into civilised society can all be part of the same race. And now they shall be.

Anyone that wants to see more of this upcoming game can find more here. You could even join in if you grab the last slot quick enough. Next time I'll touch on why I've gone for dwarfs in particular.

Tuesday 3 March 2009

Soogamethod for Rolling Attributes

I was reminded of this method for rolling attribute scores by another blog mentioning methods of character generation. For simplicity I'm going to be talking about rolling stats in D&D, but this can easily be tweaked to many other systems that have random attributes.

In the right type of game I like the idea of rolling 3d6 in order for stats, but it's never fun when you have a character that has better scores than another character in five out of six attributes. The benefits, which can be really fun and create interesting characters, just don't outweigh the balance issues to me. In-party balance is the one type of balance I strongly support. 

The idea of this method is to capture the unpredictability of straight rolling but keep the party balanced. 

  • One player rolls 3d6. Every player at the table takes turn to note down this score in an attribute of their choice. (Optional: No player may choose an attribute that another player has chosen for this roll)
  • The next player rolls 3d6 and the players assign this score to an attribute in the same way.
  • Continue until all attributes are assigned. 

Characters will have the same attribute totals but not have complete control over where they put them. Likewise, characters can start off weaker or stronger than average but will still be relatively balanced against eachother. I've never gotten to try this method, so hopefully someone will give it a go in their own game.

I should also note it's only a matter of time until I jump on the top ten monsters bandwagon!

Monday 16 February 2009

The Game I Thought I'd Never Write

Well, it was bound to happen. After working on games with relatively original concepts for so long I've finally given in and designed something where your fighter or wizard kills orcs for treasure, under the temporary name Underworld and Overworld. It took a while for me to decide what exactly I wanted out of this project, but I finally found the answer below.

What is this game?

There is nothing new or shocking in this game. It is intended to be a very simple base system for a GM and group of players wanting a game with deadly monsters, huge armies and characters that gain fame and become Kings. It is perfect for a group wanting to quickly have a fantasy adventure as there are very few rules to learn and the document is free.

From this foundation a GM can create their own monsters to break from the classic examples given, using them to populate a world straight out of his imagination. It could be as simple as a one-off dungeon crawl or it could be a full world with empires and warring gods. With this in mind the rules are intended to be as straightforward and open to modification as possible to aid creation of new content and keep the amount of calculating, memorising and paperwork at the game table down to a minimum.

The game is mostly inspired by my happy, younger memories of Fighting Fantasy books, playing Ultima Underworld and enjoying board games like Heroquest and Dungeon. 

You can see the game as it stands here.


Tuesday 10 February 2009

Lessons Learned from Out of the Pit

In case you're not familiar, Out of the Pit is the Monster Manual equivalent for Fighting Fantasy. The series was mostly known as choose-your-own-adventure-style gamebooks such as The Warlock of Firetop Mountain and Deathtrap Dungeon, but there was a short series of books branching out into a basic RPG system. I'm yet to get my hands on the other books in that series, but my lust for them is a separate topic.

Out of the Pit was probably the first thing resembling an RPG book I owned. I borrowed it from a friend shortly after getting into Warhammer Fantasy Battles and long before I delved into D&D. Back then, like so many of us at that age, I was mostly interested in reading about monsters and looking at pictures of them. Back then I didn't really give much thought to things like mechanics, random encounter tables or designing locations.

Years of RPG delving later what can this still greatly enjoyable book teach me about gaming?

Limitation Breeds Creativity - Part 1

I love this little mantra and can't recommend it enough. In this case I'm talking about how monsters are largely represented by just two stats, their Skill and Stamina, the majority falling between 5-9 in these scores. Monsters to 2 Damage as standard and those that do 1 or 3 instead will have it noted in their text. There's no talk of movement speeds, specific skills or perception abilities here (although Intelligence does get a mention). Mechanically it doesn't even seem to matter if the orc is carrying an axe, sword or spear. My initial childhood response to all this was bafflement, as surely there must be monsters that are pretty much mechanically identical. So what's the point of making them different?

But they were different. Every monster had at least two paragraphs talking about their behaviour, how they'd fight and often detailing a special rule. This is where a good GM will make the monsters shine. Slykks and Wild Hill men, for example, were almost identical in mechanics, only differing in Intelligence and the Wild Men having a missile attack. The real difference was that the Slykks were described as being unable to unite themselves because of their different colourings (gee, subtle commentary) and always fighting civil wars, as well as being ravaged by local predators such as giant leeches.

Wild Hill Men also had to deal with predators but instead of fighting each other they banded together for protection. Characters could easily find ways to get troublesome Slykks to work against each other or even earn the trust of one colour by presenting heads from another. Their proud leaders are also described as wearing luxuries stolen from humans. Seems like this is an enemy you could really cut a deal with and then get rid of later. Wild Hill Men don't seem like they'd be too easy to sway in this way and are described as being much less open to outsiders.

Look at the mechanically and thematically similar Neanderthal and the text says that they are easily amazed by real magic, something that wouldn't do much to impress Slykks or Wild Hill Men. When we have all these useful nugget do we really need to know the Slykk's Charisma score or their specific skills?

Limitation Breeds Creativity - Part 2

Now for a different point of view. I may have sounded as if I love monsters being mechanically identical, but I don't. I prefer it, in many ways, to D&D 3e style half-page stat blocks and lists of spell-like abilities. What I genuinely like is the concept behind 4e monsters. I'm talking about striving to make fighting Orcs feel very different to fighting Gnolls or Hobgoblins rather than making one of them hit more often, one of them hit harder and one of them take more hits to kill. This is something I can really get behind and is something I feel works really well with my previous point.

Indeed, in my latest design project I've strived to have monsters be limited to the very few stats and skills that they need and then have every one of them possess a special ability that gives them a unique feel. To me this is where the sweet-spot lies in a combat heavy game where you're going to fight lots of different types of opponent. Give me a few important numbers, a special ability and flavour text that tells me where this monster is found, why I'd want to fight it, who the monster will work with and how they behave.

And this very nicely foreshadows an upcoming post about my Fighting Fantasy inspired game. The game I never thought I'd write. Stay tuned.

Tuesday 3 February 2009

Lessons Learned from Teaching

Alright, quieten down and get in your usual seats. You two stop fighting, you three put your gum in the bin. Put that crossbow away.

After doing over a year of teacher training you start to notice similarities between learning theory and everything else in the world. Mostly this is down to having so much of it crammed into your brain but with game design and GMing there are genuine links!


I've seen the graph below crop up in both game design and learning theory but it makes a great, simple point. Between anxiety and boredom lies the optimal zone for a satisfying challenge. 

Simply put, if your players are bored either increase the challenges you're throwing at them or hinder their own abilities somehow (this one is trickier to pull off well...). If they seem overly stressed either give them an extra boost of power or lower the challenge slightly. Try to keep them in the zone of flow and remember individual failures are perfectly acceptable if they result in a more satisfying overall session.

Starter, Development, Plenary

These are the three ideal components to a lesson's structure and they can be easily ported across to a successful game session.

The starter is a short, usually fun task that has the main aim of engaging every single member of the class. Often they involve getting them to do something physical or loud, it wakes up their brains and reminds them all that they're in a class now and are here to do things

The development is the meat of the lesson and focuses on progressing the group's understanding of whatever the topic may be. 

The plenary is a recap of everything that's been covered in the lesson, cementing it in their minds.

Try using this structure for your next game. Hit them hard with something interesting as soon as they sit down. Combat is a great example for many games but most importantly this scene should engage every single character and give them all something to do.

After this you can progress the plot in the meat of the session, after that big start the players should be in the right mood to get some productive gaming going.

Finally, before you finish you should have the Plenary, where you wrap up everything covered in the development and close off the session, right? Not necessarily. I don't like to wrap everything up at the end of a session and I do love a good cliffhanger. However, the end of the session is a good time to summarise everything that's happened so far. This could happen out of game by quickly taking input from the players as you write bullet points for a session summary.

Cater to Different Types of Learner

A theory tells us that most people sway towards being either Visual, Auditory or Kinesthetic learners that learn best by seeing/reading, hearing or moving/touching respectively (guess which one kids come out as more?). In any lesson plan you should cater to every one of these learning styles as much as possible. Activities can easily cater to two or three of these at once.

Uh oh, am I going to delve into the somewhat questionable GNS theory or threefold model or all that stuff? Thankfully just a very shallow dip. I do think that a good GM will use the ideas present in these theories to cater to players that might favour either plot-heavy sessions or a more "gamey" experience with more tactical choices and rolling of dice. The third group often identified are players that enjoy the simulation aspects of a system. This group can be satisfied either through the realism of the system itself or how the GM presents it. Even with a highly abstract system I believe a good GM can make the players believe they're interacting with a real-feeling world through consistency and quick thinking. 

Oh, and I really don't buy into the idea that a game has to focus on being either Gamist, Narrativist or Simulationist. But that's a topic for another day.

Get your class to do as much of your job for you as possible

Ask any teacher, this is a great piece of advice. Rather than having misbehaving pupils wash my car at break-time I'm talking more about the idea that if a lesson is going well the teacher will often look like they're not doing much at all while the pupils will be a buzz of activity. Ideally they'll be asking appropriate questions, answering the questions of other pupils, supporting each other in difficult tasks and challenging themselves with new ideas. If the teacher is talking a lot and asking a thousand questions that are getting one-word answers then it could be going better. 

This topic has arisen elsewhere so I'm going to knock out my points quickly.

  • Encourage your players to ask questions and make suggestions of their own rather than waiting for you to prompt them. Do this with rewards and praise. 
  • During character creation have each player create one or two NPCs concepts for characters that are linked to their character in some way. As well as this have each suggest a key location or two that are important to their character.
  • Consider giving the players full control of one or more NPCs. This also helps avoid the dreaded GMPC situation. 

Take out your homework planners. For next lesson I want you to consider how your own career or studies have given you surprising tips for GMing or game design. Put them in the comments box and the best suggestion will receive a house point.

Saturday 31 January 2009

The Exceptional People's Coalition - Preview

Yes, another preview. These will eventually be expanded into coherent future posts, I promise! Today we look at a very early-stage idea I have in my head for a short campaign using my Blowing Stuff Up system. I'll go into how the concept fits the system in another post. Today I focus on the setting.

The Exceptional People's Coalition

The basic idea is similar to that of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, where Alan Moore did his best to unify a huge chunk of pre-20th Century fiction into one canon. A large part of the appeal was in recognising the characters, even if they were tweaked to fit, and seeing how they related to each other. So what happens when we take that concept into present-day. Do all the novels of the 20th Century suddenly become real? No. Something much better.

Nearly every film or TV series you've seen set in our real post-war world actually happened. Failed theme parks are internationally reported events. A battered Vietnam veteran still wanders the jungles of Asia and people often mistake him for that former boxing champion. Coincidence? Oceanic Flight 815 mysteriously disappeared and conspiracy theorists may have draw the attention of a certain pair of FBI agents to the incident. However, they still have their hands full with the increasing number of cases involving the living dead and that one situation everyone seems so quick to deny.

I'm forcing myself not to expand that into pages and pages of material yet. As you can see there are a wealth of possibilities with this idea, but you have to draw the line somewhere or else you hit a few problems. Here's my official what's in and what's out of the EPC.

What's In?
- Our heroes could be John McClane, Jack Bauer, Jason Bourne, John Rambo
- Modern James Bond, the old one reverted to his birth-name John Mason
- Big Trouble in Little China, Harry Potter, anything where magic is secret
- The events of MIB, Back to the Future, Jurassic Park and The Terminator, undercover to different degrees
- Crank and Shoot'em Up are both common situations
- The A-Team, Starsky and Hutch and Michael Knight could all come out of retirement.
- Video-Game Movies are in, for the most part, if only for Raul Julia's M. Bison.

What's Out? - These films are assumed to have not happened... yet!
- World-Shattering Catastrophes such as Independence Day, Day After Tomorrow, Deep Impact, Cloverfield.
- Any "open" knowledge of aliens and the supernatural.
- Superheroes. They already have enough collective canons of their own.
- Anything before 1939 is identical to our world.

How can you help contribute? Well the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen unites their characters under the said league, each filling a different role. Who would fit each role in the 2009 Exceptional People's Coalition? Fill in the blanks!

Adventurer/Leader -
Scholar -
Engineer/Scientist -
Loner/Rogue -
Muscle/Monster - 

Look forward to hearing your suggestions!

Monday 26 January 2009

Any excuse for a plug...

Chinese New Year eh? Seems like a good opportunity for everyone to try out a Wuxia game.


I guess that means my Chinese New Year's Resolution is to be more shameless in promoting my games.

Sunday 25 January 2009

Robot World - Preview

For a while now one of my back-burner projects has been a game and setting called Robot World. It was all inspired by the thought that a robot wearing a cowboy hat and riding a horse is a great image. Think less this...

And more this...

I'm clearly not the only one with a love for clearly mechanical robots in human clothes, so this is a sound basis for any game. I'm going to talk about designing the game in later posts but you can expect the following influences and features to crop up.

  • Dealing with extremely varied characters from humanoids to self-aware tanks
  • Avoiding permanent death through backups
  • How much setting info do you give when the setting is Earth?
  • Unifying experience, wealth and character points to one resource
  • Breaking a setting down into smaller settings with tighter focuses (WoD?)
  • The importance of memorable races (in this case, factions), each with their own appeal and balanced claim to being superior

On the topic of factions I've managed to fit in a few of my favourite robot schticks as individual factions, so hopefully everyone's favourite type of robot is present and playable.

  • The "Brain in a Jar" equivalent, only the jar is a mechanical body
  • The previously mentioned human-mimicking clothed robots
  • Your purpose-built type that might resemble an intelligent bulldozer or roaming security camera on wheels
  • Robots built by robots. When you remove the need for utility and have robots for robots sake suddenly so many of the Futurama robots make sense
  • Creepy flesh-growing robots longing to become the next stage of organic life

Specific info and eventually playtest rules to come soon. In the mean time who's going to help me out with some inspirational robots?

Friday 23 January 2009

Goodies for any System

Other blogs have been providing a wealth of system-generic material lately, be it general advice or specific content.

It's time I upped my game. Here are three ideas written with the intention to be useful for any system imaginable. Impossible, I know, but I'd still love to hear the exceptions. 

Needle in the Haystack
The villain you've been chasing down slips on his mask, hiding a grin, and scurries into a gang of twelve similarly masked prisoners he has under mind-control. They surround you and draw their weapons. Killing the prisoners is ideally avoided but this villain needs to be stopped! Lay out a thirteen coins to represent the prisoners and the villain, one of which you will mark with a sticker or ink. Force the players to turn over a coin for anyone they try and kill randomly, watching them (hopefully) recoil in guilt as their hand ends the life of a helpless prisoner. 

There should be an opportunity for the players to draw the villain out somehow. Perhaps there's a way they can taunt him into showing anger or a way they can recognise his fighting style. 

Escape from the Unstoppable
Many players will assume an enemy you throw at them will be a suitable challenge for them. This has to stop. Throw something really dangerous at them but give them a very specific means of escape. It might be a large dragon, beyond their combat abilities, at the end of a dungeon with multiple paths. Can the players remember the quickest way out? Do they know a way out that will prevent the dragon from following them? Another obvious example is being trapped in a pit with some huge beast. You could probably climb out given the time but not while something is trying to eat you. Does one of the characters distract it while the others escape and lower a rope? Does one character have the means to at least stun the creature for long enough to scramble out? In a more contemporary setting the threat could be an armoured vehicle or even a tank division. The PCs might be trapped in a ruined building while the enemy patrol the streets, needing to get safely out of the city. Do you take out one tank and risk being spotted? Carry out extended guerrilla warfare against them? I think I'd just want to get out of there alive.

Just make sure the players are given the hint to flee. Perhaps have the enemy demonstrate its power on someone or something more disposable than the PCs. It would be interesting to know how many players would try and take the threat head on. More interesting than that would be how many were successful!

Brain in a Jar

I mean, seriously. Is there any genre not improved by adding a brain in a jar?

This post is also my first since joining the RPG Bloggers Network, so if this is your first visit I hope you find something you can use! 

Monday 19 January 2009

Swordmountain - Concept Brainstorming

Yes that is a terrible placeholder name for any game. But I find that good placeholder names end up staying as final names in my projects! So this one will be replaced gladly as soon as I figure out what exactly the game is.

My initial idea was a game that shifted the scale of a traditional fantasy RPG upwards. Instead of spending an hour of game time travelling through some woods and playing out an encounter with giant spiders I wanted the characters to be able to spend that hour travelling through the woods, killing some spiders, finding a the bandit camp within, training them up to be an effective army and leading a strike against a nearby oppressive kingdom. I wanted one session to feel more like a whole Lord of the Rings book rather than just going through the Mines of Moria. I envisioned mechanics to encourage narrative and character development in this macro-scale world and a focus on travelling and interacting with whole kingdoms rather than barkeepers. A band of heroes that gained and lost members along the way. Raised and defeated armies and altered the world itself.

Then I heard about some game called HeroQuest...

At first it looked like my idea had already been done, unknown to me, many years ago. But should that put me off? Of course not. A game designed by me is likely to be much lighter on mechanics and I'm getting confident enough with design now that I'm sure I can match it in gameplay, with some hard work. I certainly wouldn't be tying the game to a setting like HQ and Glorantha. Most importantly, games have a habit of going into directions you don't always expect. So who knows, after a few more brainstorming sessions there might be very little in common left with HeroQuest. Just in the past few hours as I thought the game over some more I've considered moving into a no-GM direction that would put more of a focus on players collaboratively creating a story and setting as they go. Could some nice old-fashioned random tables fill the gaps left by a GM? I'll let you know as I carry on with this concept, but for now here's a rather hastily written Core Story to describe how I see a typical session of this game going.

A young warrior leaves his home in search of glory. Upon heading into the nearby forest he meets an aging woodsman, who helps him pass through some dangerous man eating vines. Here they find a young noblewoman fighting some flying tree-goblins and help her defeat them.
The three travel together until they reach the city of Kark. This city is at war with the mummies of the Empire of Dust and has been resisting their attacks for decades, becoming weaker each time. Trade routes have been cut off due to this war. The noblewoman gains an audience with the king and he sends the party out to kill the Dust Lord and end the war. They are given horses and a bodyguard of Karkian Heavy Cavalry.
They head out into the desert but are met by Mummy Chariots and their Obsidian Hounds. They battle and many of their guard are slain, but gradually the young warrior's strength forces the enemy back into the desert.
Upon arriving at the Tomb City the party are attacked by Dust Wraiths, which wound the Woodsman almost fatally. The young warrior presses on and into the Dust Lord's Palace, where he meets the Lord himself, cutting his head from his body and remembering the guidance of the king, burning the remains. Howls echo around the Tomb City and the very walls crumble as the Dust Empire's power collapses. The party hurry to find help for the dying woodsman, and a band of travelling nomads offer to help in return for escort to Kark. They heal the Ranger and upon being taken to Kark they reopen trade with the rest of the world and a celebration is held in honour of the heroes.
That evening the noblewoman is declared as heir to the throne of Kark but until her time of glory comes she agrees to continue travelling with the heroes.

I might have overdone it on the fantasy cheese but it gets across the sort of things I want the players to do. Now to go and see if I can hammer any effective mechanics into place for:
  • Travelling and Exploring
  • Promoting Character and setting development in-game
  • Interactions between Characters (Individuals only), Sites (Dungeons, Woods, Cities), Resources (Items, Armies, Monsters) and Factions (Guilds, Kingdoms)
Those four categories of entity were troubling me slightly but I'm happy that any device I can think of fits int one of them. Using the Core Story above we have...

Characters: The Young Warrior, Aging Woodsman and Noblewoman. The King of Kark, the Dust Lord.
Sites: Kark, the Desert, Tomb City, Dangerous Forest.
Resources: Mummy Chariots and Hounds, Dust Wraiths, Karkian Heavy Cavalry, Nomad Trade Caravan.
Factions: The Nomads, Kark, The Empire of Dust.

It's starting to make most sense in my head now. Stay tuned for progress.

Sunday 18 January 2009

Lessons Learned from Kung Fu Hustle

I can't recommend this film enough, but I don't want this to turn into a review. Here's what it taught me about running and designing games.

Don't fear the TPK

This film has a neat twist (don't go any further if you want to avoid spoilers) in that it keeps you guessing who the main heroes are going to be. The three masters that become revealed in Pig Sty alley trying to live normal lives seem to be our initial candidates, but soon get themselves killed by the two musicians. In step the landlord and landlady to defeat their killers and go on to fight The Beast, but after they're both defeated the real hero is revealed. I've always been a fan of death being a real possibility in games but there are very few that handle it well. In the case of this film a good supporting cast means new heroes can be drafted in when the first batch fall and it still makes sense for the story. In the Wuxia genre particularly we often see characters dying. Embrace death and look for ways to use it to your advantage in your game!

Have Style

This is one of the main focuses of A Wanderer's Romance. Every character in the film has their own style of fighting which is visually recognisable and comes with a neat sounding name. Even in games that don't feature mechanically distinct combat styles, consider how each person's techniques might appear. 

Comedy can Coexist

There's no doubting the film is a comedy, but it features action scenes that are often as impressive as anything in a straight Wuxia film. I'll confess that I was also moved by the emotional plight of the characters. You can add comedic elements to a game without removing the plot, character development and exciting action. In fact there are very few genres that don't benefit from a sprinkling of comedy. This is doubly so when you're creating the story with friends and it's something I fear some GMs worry about. Try embracing a touch of comedy in your next game where you might have tried to play it straight. Your players will thank you and in-character joking around is greatly preferential to out of character joking during a game. 

I've enjoyed writing these "lessons learned" posts a lot and would love to hear if anyone else has found gaming tips from more unlikely sources. In a future post I plan to talk about how training as a schoolteacher taught me a lot about GMing and game design. There are really more links than you might think!

Tuesday 13 January 2009

Five Star Chef

There are all sorts of horrors lurking in my Google Docs. Today I feel like unleashing one of them upon the world.

Five Star Chef is the result of a crazy night where I wanted to try and create a completely non-violent game. I'm not sure if the result qualifies as an RPG, particularly. A single game is unlikely to last longer than 20 minutes. However, maybe someone out there will get a laugh out of it, I know I had fun writing it.

Enjoy, free of charge, Five Star Chef.

Sunday 11 January 2009

Use This - Hunting the Grey Stag

This is a test for one or more characters designed with A Wanderer's Romance in mind, but applicable to any game where you might want to have a hunting challenge.

The Grey Stag is reborn every spring in the deepest forest, only ever being sighted for one week during the Winter, by which time he is a mighty and impressive beast. 

Local tradition dictates that whoever brings down the Stag with their bow will be guest of honour at the New Year's Banquet, gaining an audience with the king himself. 

Your characters may attempt this challenge, which is broken down into smaller tasks. Each may be attempted by a different character if they are working as a group. There is a four hour limit on hunting for the Stag.

Finding the Stag: Tracking down the Stag is a normal-difficulty (Target 10 in AWR) task that could use tracking, survival or a related skill. If this is failed then an hour is wasted but the characters may try again. If they succeed they may move on to...

Approaching the Stag: This is a Stealth test and the difficulty depends on if the group want to get within Long (Normal difficulty, Target 10), Medium (Difficult, Target 12) or Close (Very Difficult, Target 14) range of the Stag. If they fail move on to the next hour and try to find the stag again.

Shooting the Stag: Hitting the Stag is an Archery test and the difficulty depends on whether the group got into Long (Very Difficult, Target 14), Medium (Difficult, Target 12) or Close (Normal, Target 10) range of the Stag. If they miss (which will also represent a non-lethal hit) the Stag flees, but you keep track of its direction and so move back to Approaching the Stag immediately. If they hit the stag is brought down and you may claim your prize.

Regardless of if they pass or fail the group should still attend the New Year's Banquet in order to find out which hunter bettered them on the day.

Saturday 10 January 2009

Identifying Cores in A Wanderer's Romance

Here Mike Mearls talks about Core Stories, which are the things that make up a stereotypical game in any given system, writing it as if it was a real session. The idea behind exploring these is that it gives you an insight into the focus of the game and can be a nice easy way to pitch the idea to new players. Elsewhere the idea has been expanded into Core Activities that cover both the characters and the players. I decided to take up the challenge to write a Core Story (what the characters do in a typical game) and Core Activity (what the players do in a typical game) for A Wanderer's Romance.

Core Story: A band of three wanderers, skilled in their particular style of combat and individual talents, arrive to an island on a small boat. They find the ruler of the island has declared a tournament for the following day, with the winner being rewarded with rulership of the island. They find out that the two favourites to win are despicable and cruel characters desiring power for their own gain and decide to enter themselves. They spend the rest of the day preparing by sparring with each other, partaking of some meditative calligraphy and tracking down the master of a legendary style deep in the island's woods. The following day they compete in the tournament, one of them reaching the final and defeating their power-greedy foe in a duel. Upon receiving their reward they do the honourable thing and refuse the power, handing it to the wise master that trained them in their new style, who vows to rule the island in a fair and peaceful way. The next morning they sail into the sunrise in search of their next adventure.

Core Activity: You create your character using the semi-random creation process, fleshing out their concept as you choose their combat style, weapon of choice and specialities. You then seek out duels or contests and prepare for them by considering the location's element modifiers, carrying out activities to boost one element and sparring with your companions to gain a lesson token. Hopefully you can boost the elements that you wish to while keeping your balance score high. In the duel or contest you balance your actions between attacking and focusing, eventually winning or losing to your opponent. In this time you may have learned a new combat style or speciality, slowly increasing your range of abilities. 

The purpose of these is something I'll go into in a later post, but at the very least I have a nice clean summary of my game, which is always useful.

Lessons Learned from House of Flying Daggers

I've been catching up on some of the more recent Wuxia films I missed, yesterday being the turn of House of Flying Daggers. Of course, there's no way I could watch this film without getting all sorts of ideas for running A Wanderer's Romance. Hopefully they'll stir up some ideas for your game too. There may be slight spoilers, but nothing too detailed. 

Say it with Colour

If you've seen this film you'll remember the green scene, the white scene and the yellow scene. There are few visual stimuli that hit an audience as immediately as a bold, highly saturated colour. This could be used to make instantly memorable locations. World of Warcraft is another example of how a strong palette can create memorable, flavourful locations. Whether it's through visual aids or pure description colour is an incredibly useful tool for the GM.

Location is your Off-hand Weapon

We all know that blowing your locations up is fun, but why stop there? The bamboo forest in the "green scene" mentioned above is used for far more than chopping up. Said chopped-bamboo forms a bed of spikes over one area, the stalks themselves provide a limitless supply of spears for the attacking soldiers as well as a vertical dimension to the fight. It's the use of your surroundings as a weapon that really appeals to me. If one of your players wants to cut a rope and send a suspended sandbag onto the head of their enemy why not let them? Roll it as a normal attack with their sword, damage and all, and enjoy the flavour. If your system uses hit points and treats them as an abstraction this fits all the better!

Who needs Badguys?

There really wasn't a single villain in this film. Even the faceless guards doomed to be slaughtered were people you didn't want to see die. The way I felt about the characters meant that when the climactic duel came around I didn't know who I wanted to win. I certainly had no idea how it was going to turn out, either, and I liked it! I like this feeling all the more in RPGs because we really don't know who's going to win. If I'm playing in a game where I'm the hero facing off against a supremely evil villain and I die, it just feels wrong. If my character dies by the hand of someone who was only as flawed as my character instead we have a delicious tragedy. The world doesn't end when I die, which leads onto...

Plot Potential in Success and Failure

As I mentioned, I had no idea how the final duel was going to pan out, besides a hunch that there would be some previously noted tragedy involved. As I was thinking about it I realised that no matter what the outcome there was scope for it to be satisfying. One thing I always try to put into my encounters is potential for the plot to move in an interesting direction no matter what the outcome. With AWR especially there's lots of scope for the player's characters to lose duels or contests and fail tests. This should never be the end of the game and call for disappointed rolling of a new character. Even in death the character should have a purpose in the story, whether a new character is introduced or not. There are a couple of characters I'm playing right now that I'm really looking forward to eventually killing off! 

Or maybe I've just been bitten by the tragedy bug and would regret it immediately! I'd love to hear about any experiences you've had with characters living on (not literally) after their death.

Wednesday 7 January 2009

Creating Combat Styles

It's been a productive year so far, not just with this blog but in actual gaming. Today I'll have my fourth session as a player this year, which matches the number I played in all of last year! I'm not the only one that's glad to be getting out of the GM's chair for a little while. A side-effect is the time spent not worrying about preparing for my next game is spent on making the system itself better. In this case, more combat styles!

One of the key features of A Wanderer's Romance is the use of combat styles, which are either attacking or defensive. I wanted to capture that feel of different martial artists fighting with incredibly evocative styles with poetic names, certain styles countering others and bringing their legacy with them. 

This week I've had a little help in coming up with concepts for some new styles to add to the list in AWR, which has recently trickled over 60 in total. Amongst others, my assistant through this idea onto the table for me to clean up into something that would work in the game.

Desert Heat
(Spear) - Fire + Water
The sun weighs heaviest when the air is still.
A Style based around holding back and letting your opponent get worn down before making a finishing single blow.

Sounds like it has potential to me! As a general rule a Style would only make the cut if I could picture how it would look in motion. This is where the little line of flavour text comes in. This was largely inspired by Magic: The Gathering cards, which always seemed to get a lot of flavour across from these really short snippets of text. Here it's easy to picture a fighter holding their Spear in a high stance, letting their opponent wear themselves out attacking them, before killing them in a single doward thrust. From this we can determine the Abilities of the Style.

Initiate: May be used as a Defensive Style. Obviously the concept is based around tiring an opponent before finishing them off, so the style will need to be useful both offensively and defensively.

Student: Whenever an opponent misses you they must choose an Element with a score higher than 0. This is reduced to 0 for the duration of the duel.  At first your opponent missing you won't be a huge deal to them, as they're likely to have at least one disposable Element. However, after missing four times they're going to look pretty helpless. Ripe for the picking with that final attack!

Master: For every Element your opponent has at zero or below, add one to their Damage rolls. Well, this is where you're in real trouble! You'd better hope you can hit a Desert Heat Master on the first or second attempt or your goose is cooked.

So there we have it, the making of a combat Style for A Wanderer's Romance. Here's the finished product.

Desert Heat
(Spear) - Fire + Water
The sun weighs heaviest when the air is still.
Initiate: May be used as a Defensive Style.
Student: Whenever an opponent misses you they must choose an Element with a score higher than zero. This is reduced to zero for the duration of the duel.
Master: For every Element your opponent has at zero or below, add one to their Damage rolls.

Definitely something I'd want for my character!