Monday, January 26, 2009

McSlaughter Industries: We Hire Creepy Guys So You Don't Have To

The McSlaughter Brothers have found it very useful, on occasion, to hire a Really Creepy Guy. In addition to the skills they tend to bring to the table (torture, mostly), Really Creepy Guys tend to wind up the target of attacks before the relatively-normal-looking Brothers do because seriously, he is creeping me out.

The McSlaughters hit pay dirt with their current RCG, the Dungeon Master, a leatherclad sadomasochist who accepted employment as a way to pay off a rather large bill at a rather exclusive brothel.

The Dungeon Master (Wild Card)
Attributes: Agility d8, Smarts d6, Spirit d6, Strength d6, Vigor d12
Skills: Climbing d6, Fighting d8, Healing d6, Intimidation d10, Knowledge (leatherworking) d6, Notice d8, Shooting d12, Stealth d8, Streetwise d4, Taunt d8
Pace 6, Parry 6, Toughness 10(2)
Hindrances: Delusion (sadomasochist), Quirk (really creepy), Poverty
Edges: Combat Reflexes, Dodge, Hard to Kill, Improved Nerves of Steel, Marksman, Strong Willed, Quick Draw, Very Hard to Kill
Gear: Leather Armor +1, torture implements, whip, crossbow and 20 bolts, knife, 3 fire bolts (act as 3d6 damage Bolt power), 1 healing potion

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Old School, New School

For a long time, I have believed that Old/New School in roleplaying isn't a problem with the rules, it's a matter of approach. I've been through several iterations of this theory and finally pared it down to a simple statement.

Old School is an adversarial relationship between the player characters and GM - the GM is an active obstacle to the (inevitable) success of the player characters. New School is focused on a collaborative story between players and GM.

That's my belief. The only difference is how the story is created. It is possible, and even likely, that in each scenario a party of ragtag misfits save the world, destroy the evil wizard, and rescue the fair maiden. The difference is in how that scenario is crafted: Old School will involve a list of notes or a published adventure including a list of things the PCs must accomplish before their final goal (defeat monsters, solve puzzles, overcome traps, talk past guards), while New School will change and alter the world around the actions of the PCs (if they check for traps, there will be traps; if they rush through a dungeon throwing caution to the wind, there will also be traps).

Rules have nothing to do with it. Some settings and rules lend themselves more towards one school of thought than another; Don't Rest Your Head's dice-lite system lends itself more towards the New School, as it doesn't rely on a hero's skills and abilities so much as tendencies, while All Flesh Must Be Eaten gleefully concedes that there's no way a party could prepare for every eventuality.

I think every group falls close to the middle of Old/New, and we're only aware a disparity because every system that comes out is, in its own way, an attempt to improve the way we tell stories, and they accomplish that in different ways. 4e is an Old School system because it has a lot of ways to hurt the PCs, while Fate is New School because it does not try to come up with everything.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Sun and Shadow: Dragonfriend Professional Edge

In Sun and Shadow, dragons are held in the highest regard as sacred protectors of religious sites, powerful artifacts, and sometimes even small villages. Experienced dragons are ancient wyrms of incredible power and prestige; they may play an active role in the politics of entire regions and, in religion, often have a vote in electing a new high priest (or equivalent).

Unsurprisingly, it has become a religious duty of some temples to appoint a young hero to raise a dragon hatchling so they may experience the world. The dragon and dragonfriend receive special training, learning to rely on each other and act as part of a team; the dragonfriend is entrusted to safeguard the dragon at the expense of their own life. Eventually, a dragonfriend ascends to the rank of Dragonlord, and it becomes their lifelong duty to ensure the safety and comfort of their dragon companion as well as acting as their advisor in political matters.

Requires: Novice, may only me taken at character creation, Beast Bond, member of appropriate religion
The character gains a dragon hatchling companion and becomes responsible for its care, feeding, instruction, and safety.

The dragon levels up every time the character does and is considered to be of the same Rank as the character. Each new Rank increases its Size and Pace (both on the ground and flying) by 1 and, if it has learned enough, allows it to remove one Hindrance for free. At Veteran level, the hatchling becomes a Wild Card. The dragon's breath weapon also becomes more powerful, dealing 2d6 damage at Seasoned, affecting a cone template at Veteran, dealing 2d8 damage at Heroic, and 2d10 at Legendary.

Characters must take a vow to undertake the responsibilities above. This is a Major Vow Hindrance. Unique to this Edge, characters may take this Vow in addition to their maximum amount of Hindrances.

If the Hatchling is killed, the Dragonfriend becomes responsible for exacting vengeance on the offending party and is expelled from his church until he does. During this period, the Dragonfriend receives one less Benny per session.

Dragon Hatchling
Attributes: Agility d8, Smarts d6, Spirit d6, Strength d6, Vigor d6
Skills: Fighting d6, Intimidation d4, Notice d6, Persuasion d4, Shooting d6, Stealth d6, Survival d4, Taunt d6
Pace: 6; Parry: 5; Toughness: 6(2)
Hindrances: All Thumbs, Clueless, Curious, Young
Edges: Charismatic, Dodge
  • Armor +2: Scaly hide
  • Brave: +2 to Guts checks
  • Breath Weapon: The hatchling's breath has not developed the legendary power of a typical dragon. It has a range of 2/4/8, affects a single target, and deals 2d4 fire damage. It can, however, set opponents on fire.
  • Claws/Bite: Str+d4
  • Flight: Pace 10
  • Size -1: Dragon Hatchlings are about the size of a dog.
  • Tenacious: Dragon Hatchlings have 3 Wounds and roll on the Critical Injury Table, just like a Wild Card. They do not, however, have a Wild Die or bennies apart of the one granted by the Young Hindrance.

Please leave feedback below!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

McSlaughter Industries: Brawn, brains, and bolts!

This was mentioned in a comment, and I should clear it up: McSI fits into a "modern fantasy setting;" by that, I mean a fantasy setting written recently and with a modern voice. They would be out of place in an Old School setting unless it's very self-aware; they'd be at home in Eberron or Hackmaster but not Shaintar or the Forgotten Realms.

I also forgot to mention that the McSlaughters are both Wild Cards. I will edit their entry accordingly.

That being said:

The McSlaughter Brothers are keen to hire barbarians who are the last remaining members of their tribe, seeking revenge (you'd be surprised at how many of those are running around). They usually work for cheap, fight like demons, and are easily manipulated. Their most recent hire is Grark, the Last Son of the U'hurr Clan. Though dumber than a box of dumb rocks, Grark is the human equivalent of a tac-nuke; the McSlaughters usually try to rile him up about the most dangerous target and send him on his way. Grark is also possessed of a sort of animal magnetism that many women find irresistible, so the McSlaughters occasionally direct him to infiltrate adventuring groups and distract gullible females.

Grark (Wild Card)
Agility d8, Smarts d4, Spirit d6, Strength d10, Vigor d10
Skills: Climbing d6, Fighting d12, Intimidation d8, Notice d4, Persuasion d4, Stealth d6, Survival d6, Throwing d8, Tracking d6
Pace: 6; Parry: 8; Toughness: 10(2)
Hindrances: Clueless, Quirk (easily tricked: -1 to resist Tricks), Vengeful (minor)
Edges: Attractive, Berserk, Brawny, Combat Reflexes, Frenzy, Trademark Weapon (Ribspreader)
Gear: "Ribspreader," Magic Greataxe (2d10+1, +1 Fighting, no Parry penalty, AP 2), Chainmail, Metal Pot Helm, 1 healing potion, 1 strength potion (+1 die type for 3 rounds when drunk), 1 blast potion (deals 3d6 damage in MBT when thrown; he is strictly forbidden from using it when the Brothers are in its area of effect), 2 spears

Friday, January 16, 2009

McSlaughter Industries: Ready-made henchmen for your game

"McSlaughter Industries is dedicated to providing efficient, cost-effective, and above all reliable customer service to the modern fantasy villain. By utilizing our unique, unfriendly personnel and implementing a variety of murder- and plunder-related initiatives, McSlaugher Industries is able to provide you, the client, with solutions to any conceivable operational problem.

McSlaugher Industries: Because any problem that can't be solved with an axe to the head isn't worth solving."

-McSI mission statement, first draft

McSlaughter Industries was started by Vassilos McSlaughter and brother Thraxos in order to make them very, very rich doing exactly what they love: Burning things and stabbing people. Each of the scheming McSlaughter Brothers is a force in their own right and their little band of "anti-adventurer specialists" is as much a service as it is a way for each brother to have another sword hand by their side in case the other turns on him.

In a campaign, the McSlaughters are best used as recurring villains, working for the main adversary. Though they are constantly fighting, in combat each brother becomes protective of the other (otherwise they risk losing their worthiest opponent). The McSlaughters are incredibly greedy and each may switch alliegences for the right price, though they prefer not to do this in combat. Finally, they are also darkly comic figures; Vassilos doesn't care too much about catching his brother in an errant blast nor does Thraxos mind if he "accidentally" stabs Vassilos with a poisoned dagger. Their squabbling may allow the PCs an opportunity to escape, renew the fight, or even just walk past them if it's bad enough.

Vassilos McSlaughter, former Guildmaster of the Wizard's Guild (Wild Card)
Agility d6, Smarts d12, Spirit d8, Strength d4, Vigor d6
Skills: Fighting d6, Intimidate d8, Knowledge (arcana) d8, Notice d8, Spellcasting d12, Stealth d6, Taunt d6
Pace: 6; Parry: 6; Toughness: 7(1)
Hindrances: Bloodthirsty, Greedy (major), Quirk (fights with Thraxos)
Edges: Arcane Background (Mage), Command, Common Bond, New Power, Power Points, Wizard
Gear: Quarterstaff, leather armor, 2 healing potions and 3 mana potions, Shield Ring (+1 Toughness)
AB: 15 PP, Blast, Bolt, Deflection, Fear

Thraxos McSlaughter, Cunning* Rogue (Wild Card)
Attributes: Agility d10, Smarts d4, Spirit d6, Strength d8, Vigor d8
Skills: Climbing d8, Fighting d10, Lockpicking d8, Notice d6, Stealth d10, Taunt d6, Throwing d8, Streetwise d6
Pace: 6; Parry: 8; Toughness: 7(1)
Hindrances: Delusional (minor; believes he's quite smart), Greedy (major), Quirk (fights with Vassilos)
Acrobat, Ambidextrous, Dodge, Florentine, Thief, Two Fisted
Gear: 4x handaxe, leather armor, 3 healing potions, Shadow Cloak (grants Low Light Vision, +1 to Stealth)

*Thraxos is actually deficient in the cunning department.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Dread Gazebo

The Dread Gazebo (WC)
Dread Gazebos are actually a form of the Gargoyle, an ornamental guardian dedicated to protecting a given area - in this instance, gardens and parks. Like its lesser cousin, a Gazebo lies in wait until someone attempts to destroy it or desecrate its territory, at which point it awakens and quickly devours the responsible party. Usually, in this case, the entire party.
Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d8 (A), Spirit d8, Strength d12+4, Vigor d10
Skills: Fighting d10, Notice d6, Tracking d10
Pace: 14; Parry: 7; Toughness: 15(4)
  • Armor +4: Gazebos are solid wooden constructions.
  • Bite: Gazebos may bite any adjacent opponent they have grappled with their tentacles (see below) for 2d12+4 damage.
  • Berserk: As per the Edge.
  • Construct
  • Fear (-2): An angry Gazebo may chill the blood of even stalwart adventurers.
  • Fearless
  • Gardener: Gazebos leave no trace of their steps.
  • Immunity: Gazebos are immune to piercing and blunt weapons.
  • Infravision
  • Large: Anyone attacking a Gazebo receives a +2 bonus. However, unlike most Large creatures, Gazebos do not receive a penalty when attacking targets Size 0 or larger.
  • Size +4: Gazebos are large creatures.
  • Tentacles: When angered, the floorboards of a Dread Gazebo splinter and a hellish dimension is unearthed, from which issue forth a dozen or more tentacles. They have Toughness 6, one Wound, and are immune to piercing and blunt weapons. Tentacles may grapple an opponent and drag them 2" per round towards the Gazebo until they escape. They have a Reach of 6", Fighting d8, and Strength d10. The tentacles may attack as many as three opponents per round.
  • Weakness (fire): Gazebos catch on fire on a 4-6 on the d6. Fire attacks deal +2 damage to the Gazebo, and they must roll Spirit in order to any target with a visible source of flame.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

If you can't take the heat, go back to the kitchen and play 3.5: A Very Long Post

Let's start here:


It's funny! I laughed the first time I read it, then I got to thinking. And with everyone else on the Internet posting their thoughts on 3e vs 4e, I guess I'll jump on the wagon. I'll be discussing some of the major gripes I am hearing, my thoughts on those, and then finally my personal thoughts on the system - its pros and cons.

First, I haven't been playing for 20+ years like a lot of the serious gamers out there, but I have been playing for 11 and GMing for 9. I'm not exactly johnny-come-lately, let's get that established.

I hear a lot of flak about 4e being too combat oriented. I'd like to talk about that first. Dungeons and Dragons, as we all know, was developed out of the Chainmail skirmish game by, among others, Gary Gygax in the 70s. Its very origins are combat simulation. Later on, it grew and attracted imitators and eventually other games were developed - but all tabletop RPG systems have one thing at their core: They are, to a one, built around the simulation of conflict. Two or more sides want something and their goals are usually irreconciliable, that's good drama. Building a system starts with combat because it's the one thing you can't simulate at the table (even if your friends are forgiving, there's just not room in the average kitchen), and combat can be twisted by adjusting those rules into a simulation for any conflict.

With that understanding, let's even look at other iterations of DnD. Remember ADnD? We all seem to, and fondly. Remember all the skills?


They weren't in there. There were weapon proficiencies and nonweapon proficiencies. That included everything from languages to rope use. They didn't really get much better - you had them or you didn't. Occasional checks were made, but that wasn't the focus of most adventures. Hell, the Rogue was the only one making constant skill checks, but that was just for his thieving abilities, rolled on a percentile.

Then we had 3e and 3.5, with their approximately 4000 skills. A good step in terms of layering some complexity onto a combat engine, but an overall poor design choice. The d20 system eventually gave way to the Star Wars Saga Edition, with its much smaller list of skills - Move Silently and Hide become Stealth; Spot, Search, and Listen become Perception. This is a positive step forward, because I no longer have to agonize about where to put a handful of skill points to keep the party balanced. DnD 4e carries this to its logical conclusion: Everyone can make checks, but certain classes have aptitudes others don't. That's pretty logical to me - someone who makes a living commanding soldiers has probably picked up a bit of military history, and a chevalier who acts as his local parish's liaison to the government is more likely to know a thing about acting polite.

Basically, I fail to see how a lack of skills makes a game more combat oriented. Look at all the class abilities in 3.5 - most character class abilities are about inflicting lasting harm on another character, or avoiding bodily harm yourself. In 4e, class abilities are about inflicting lasting harm on another, avoiding bodily harm, or preventing the same to your comrades. I do not note the overall difference in the function of classes.

Yes, all the abilities are about bringing the hurt to the enemy. So? The game has always been about that. And don't tell me all the Powers prevent roleplaying - shit, guys. Every game comes down to "I attack that guy *roll* no, I missed" by 11 PM and you know it. Don't pretend you describe every single sword stroke, slice, parry, and the clanging of armor. Just don't. I roleplay with actors, designers, and playwrights - if a roomful of those guys don't feel up to that task over an entire evening, neither do you. It's foolish to say that because Wizards felt like injecting a little flavor into what's basically your normal attack, but better, you can't describe every action anymore. I call BS on that, The Internet Fandom.

The other big thing I hear is that it's "too videogamey." First, what the hell does that even mean, and two, I guess I will take a stab at debunking what I think that is. "Too videogamey" means that combatants move around a lot, you need a visual representation of the battle for it to make sense, everyone has special attacks and skills, and again things depend on action and combat. I've already discussed that last one, and I believe everyone has always had special attacks - just because you don't need to press a hotkey to use Sneak Attack or Cleave doesn't mean they've gone away. It's the same game you've been playing. A lot of groups do complain about the necessity of battlemats and miniatures, but let me share a secret: I have a whiteboard, a tape measure, and old HeroClix and HeroScape figures. Some groups use Lego figurines, which is even better. With these elements and a little imagination (remember, that thing you claim the new edition sidelines?) you can have a full and varied set of PCs, monsters, and terrain for $100. The most expensive thing I mentioned was a tape measure, and let's face it, every home should have one.

A battlemap/whiteboard/piece of plexiglass with a grid taped to the bottom and a handful of minis does some fantastic things for player imagination, in my experience. I have always found that playing with some kind of visual representation of the battlefield makes players more prone to using the environment to their advantage, envisioning combat, and (more to the point) resolving arguments. Does it restrict creativity to draw a room without a chandelier? Fuck no. The player asks "Is there a chandelier?" I say "Yes!" First rule of improv. Unless they're in an environment where a chandelier is extremely improbable, of course. By the way, improvisation rules are something all GMs should know. And a quick side note, every GM book includes rules for handling problem players; I wonder why nobody's put out a guide to handling problem GMs yet.

The other thing about DnD 4e being too much like a video game is that that's just the way our society's moving in terms of interactive entertainment. WOW, more than anything else, really made videogames accessible and cool to someone besides nerds and frat boys. I can walk across campus and hear a pair of dating English majors talk about the raid they're planning together. Can you blame serious gamers and writers for noticing that trend and dissecting the format to see what makes it work? DnD is now easier than ever to learn. It's not quite to the level of hitting a button and right clicking, but it's getting close. People want games to run fast; they can tell more involved stories that way.

So there you go. Those are my thoughts on the two major gripes I hear. I really got on a roll here, so I think I'll save my personal thoughts for another post. I know everyone wants to comment now, so I'll let you do that.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Last night's game: Some observations

I played with five girls last night. Two of them were costume design students, two were fashion design students, and one was a film student. All were first-time gamers. Three of them really seemed to enjoy the game, and two of them could give a shit.

  • It was more helpful to walk people through the character creation process without the book. That let me "grow" their character with them, and they could simply tell me what the character was good at. Basically, I half created two of them organically. Two others, I basically handed the book and tried to hold their hands. I think that they found all the terms and options paralyzing and that may have affected how they enjoyed the game.
  • I run a violent game. Thing is, I don't even think it's particularly violent by game standards - there's guaranteed to be a couple fights every session, usually including a "boss monster" of some sort. However, it would be better to start future games with new players with a couple skill challenges or traps in order to gradually introduce people to the rules.
  • Following up on that last one, maybe I should make a stronger point about the skillsets characters have. I should make it clearer that they need one way to directly injure opponents or they might get frustrated. One of the players had a gnome witch; while a cool concept, I didn't really spend a lot of time with her developing the character and I should have allowed her to pick another Power or given her some kind of magic herbs or something. Her powers were all support oriented - Fly, Armor, and Healing.
  • I got very sick after three hours of play and the game kind of ended when I developed an incapacitating headache. I think the very rich seafood alfredo that the host prepared, the godawful waking hours I've been on (4 PM - 4 AM, lately), and the fact that one of the girls is someone I'd like to date may have contriuted to the tension and self-consciousness that could have caused that.
  • Positive things: I've been learning to really work with character concepts. One of the players wanted to be an elephant-man, so I whipped up a race and she made an Eastern inspired "olifauntus paladin."
  • One of the girls actually startled me with her enthusiasm. She got there late and I didn't even know she was coming, so I handed her a pregen I'd made for another game. Not only did she pick up on the rules quickly, she took glee in describing her actions, giggled when her character felled a foe, and always looked at the board for options.
  • Both the costume grads really got into their characters. One of them was the paladin, the other a morally-ambiguous necromancer. The conflict those two in particular had was fun to observe. They were also keen to ask question about the rules, their options, and possibilities.
  • My bad: I should have allowed for more noncombat solutions to things. However, I had planned for another two or so hours of play where the group would be able to use their interpersonal skills and engage in a little bit of trickery - I just wish I'd opened with it.
  • My bad: A cold opening was a poor choice.
So. I hope some of you find this helpful. Leave comments below.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Thank Pelor

"Are you off to play Funny Dice?"

That's my friend Peter's mom asking if we're going to be off playing Savage Worlds. I find my hobby difficult to discuss with just anyone, so I'm posting snippets of insights and ideas here on the interweblogopheratron.

Tonight: Playing SW with people who are not only first-time gamers, but girls. Characters created so far are a morally-ambiguous necromancer and an honorable elephant-person paladin who worships a god of battle.