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!

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Lessons Learned from 4e Part 1

The title is a little misleading. As part of a series talking about how I designed A Wanderer's Romance I had planned to stick to my own games. Then something like 4e comes along with a strongly focused design that casts its shadow over every gaming forum and blog. Even though I'm yet to play it I guess it was bound to have an effect on my design. 

I'm at the risk of repeating what Scott has said over at A Butterfly Dreaming with some of this, but Skill Challenges are an idea that looks fantastic on paper. However, plenty of people have reported problems with the system and it was one of the first to receive an official errata. Not having used the system in play I can't talk too much about it. However, I can talk about Tests in AWR and how Skill Challenges seem to have leaked over into them.

A Test could be a single roll, for jumping from one rooftop to another, using a certain skill. It could also be a series of rolls that are linked together. This could be a group of characters collaborating on a task or a single character going through a series of linked tasks. Examples of how this system can be used are given in the game document, as well as how to determine overall success or failure, but nothing as rigid as 4e's Skill Challenges. The suggested method is that a failure from one person makes the next person's job harder. Overall success could be totalled successes from all or it could come down to the last person to act.

With this in mind I was most impressed to see a first-time GM of this system throw the following Test at me and a group of players in a session for our campaign this week (keeping the numbers behind the screen, of course):

Task: Escape!

Get to port of the isle of Kincade, cannon shots having killing most of the ship's crew.  The characters will have to take over positions.

Operating the rudder requires the person to be quick-minded and have a firm control (Air + Water).

Those entwined with the rigging must be graceful of movement but driven to push themselves (Fire + Water).

The gunner must have a practical mind, be good with their hands and determined in causing destruction (Earth + Fire) .

He or she who undertakes the dangerous duty of keeping the ship afloat, sealing leaks, and fixing it under combat conditions must be both cool, logical and creative, intuitive (Fire + Water)

Rigging - TN 14 to swim to shore.
Helm - TN 12 to swim to shore.
Leaks - TN 10 to swim to shore.
Cannon - TN 10 swim to shore. Also, cannon explodes. Will allow a roll to dodge the damage if the player can convince me why.

For multiple failures ramp up the difficulty (TN)!

Needless to say, we sank the ship, but managed to pull ourselves ashore none the less. What I really enjoyed was that it felt like we were all chipping in to one goal but that failure on any part would sting the group as a whole. The more magical member of our group even managed to conjure a blast of wind to help us along, something the GM hadn't accounted for but slotted in without any trouble. If you scrub away the system-specific stuff you've got the same framework as a 4e Skill Challenge.

It's true. Skill Challenge-style Tests can work and are great fun! Just remember what they're not and remember, you don't have to be playing 4e to get in on the action. There's plenty to be learned even from games you don't enjoy, which brings my nicely onto how I intended to finish this post. In these turbulent times the least I can do is spread some cool and calm a little further through this Internet. Treat yourself to a peaceful day.

Monday, 5 January 2009

Lessons Learned from Inheritance

Each game I write benefits from the experience gained in writing the previous ones. A Wanderer's Romance is my most recent game so should, in theory, make use of lessons learned from this experience.

Inheritance was the first of my games I really got to a playable level and it's still the longest game I've written to date. While I still like the game there were a lot of mistakes I made with it that I wouldn't make again.

Long Combats with one type of attack are not fun.

For many types of character in Inheritance they had few combat options besides attacking with their weapon. Other options were there such as focusing on evasion and special attacks such as grappling, charging and disarming but they were rarely used and generally unexciting. In learning this lesson I wanted to give a useful alternative to attacking each turn, which became Focusing. This gives you not only a pretty nice bonus to your next attack but triggers special abilities in various styles. This addition, along with the variation within combat styles, has made combat in A Wanderer's Romance much more active for the player than in Inheritance.

In addition combat is much shorter, being between only two opponents in the vast majority of cases. The player is always either acting or reacting to their opponent and a hit tends to end the fight much more often than in Inheritance. This gave us fast, active combat. Much more fun.

Quick NPC generation can be your absolute saviour.

To make a standard human NPC in Inheritance you took the basic human template and chose two "Good Thing" upgrades for them. That's all you need, mechanically, for the merchant your players suddenly need statted up. When running the game this has saved me a great deal of time in comparison to something like D&D or GURPS where I'd be more likely to give in and grab a pre-generated NPC. Pre-gens are great but can't always give you what you need.

For A Wanderer's Romance creating a new character involve dividing six points between their four elements, choosing one or more Specialities and Styles for them and giving them a philosophy. This isn't quite as fast as Inheritance but it's still something I've been able to do on the fly without players noticing. Very handy.

Players aren't as interested in your setting as you are.

I still love the Inheritance setting. I still want to draw up the whole world map and draw trade routes, settlements, map out a full timeline of events. However, I know that this exercise would be completely separate to any useful writing I do, as only the minority of players will ever really delve deeply into your setting. With A Wanderer's Romance I took some notice of 4e's Points of Light setting guidance. I liked the fact that it was a framework for groups to create their own world in. Worlds would be different but still adhere to the feel the designers felt suited the game and, importantly for me, be consistent with the mechanics.

In A Wanderer's Romance there's little the players need to know about the setting before they play. These points are covered in around two paragraphs highlighted in coloured boxes and the rest is down relatively common knowledge of the game's influences and the GM's own contributions.

Sunday, 4 January 2009

Goals for 2009

This month's RPG Blog Carnival over at that very handy network got me thinking. Resolutions aren't something I normally do but goals? I can be all over goals.

  • Seal off A Wanderer's Romance and Teen Island as finished games.
  • Get more people to play my games than last year, which is half of the purpose of this blog.
  • Play some face to face, at-a-table games. As much as I love playing online I need to see how my games hold up to real-world play.

Realistically I can achieve these in six months, so I should come up with a new batch around July. 

Use This - The Emperor's Challenge

This small scenario is designed for use with my game, A Wanderer's Romance, but could be easily adapted to suit other systems.

You need someone in a position of power who has something to offer that the characters desire. For our example we have an Emperor looking for someone to fill the position of island champion, a prestigious honour indeed. To succeed the challenger must defeat the current champion in the Emperor's Trial. This is split over three contests.

For the first round the Emperor will choose the contest. If you're short on ideas roll a d6. Listed after each type of contest are the skills that could be used within.

  1. Debating philosophical ideas- Religion/History (quoting others), Deception (bluffing) or Oratory (confidence in presenting ideas).
  2. A race to the top of a mountain - Survival (finding a shortcut), Athletics, Geography (knowing the best path).
  3. A drinking contest - Resist Toxins (not many other options for this one besides cheating!)
  4. Creating a work of art worthy of the Emperor - Poetry, Calligraphy, Cooking (if you can pass off a great dish as art)
  5. Hunting the largest stag in a nearby forest - Tracking, Archery, Storytelling (if you can exaggerate the tale of the catch it might sway things your way)
  6. An arm-wrestling contest - Athletics, Intimidation (with your face that close to your opponent it must come in handy)

The winner of this first contest will choose the nature of the second contest. The third contest will always be a duel to the death, but the location and time of the duel will be chosen by the winner of the second contest. Consider the option of allowing the victor to also choose the weapon to be used in the duel or set additional stipulations. 

To save the rest of your group from missing out you could have the island champion instead be a group of champions, with the PCs entering as a team and choosing an entrant for each contest, with no one being allowed to compete twice.

Look forward to a new Use This every Sunday!

Writing a Wanderer's Romance - Concept

I've at least partially written more games than I've played. Of the two I'm most happy with A Wanderer's Romance is the one I want to talk about first.

Now that I'm at a point where I'm happy with the game I wanted to look over how I got there. The truth is a lot of things fell into place without much planning, but how does that make me look?

No. For the purposes of this series of posts you should accept this twisted version of the truth where I'm terribly organised and draw charts while sipping coffee. This will be mutually beneficial in making me seem to be a more effective designer and hopefully helping you in designing your own games.

A Wanderer's Romance is a game drawing inspiration from a number of areas, notably the following:

  • Wuxia novels and films.
  • Legend of the Five Rings, Chambara films and general western romanticism of Samurai culture.
  • My own amusement, from afar, of Anime series where the strangest things can become epic battles.

These three combined with my dust-covered brainstorm for a system using Elements as character attributes and basic setting idea based around lots of tiny islands to eventually form the game. Frankly it's a miracle the game doesn't feel like a pile of ideas mashed together, but somehow coherence was formed.