Published on 7/28/2011 Written by 7 comments

Learning from Star Trek

I've been watching a lot of Star Trek: The Next Generation lately. It had always been my personal favorite Trek series as it was the one I grew up watching the most. But I never realized how some of the lessons from the show could be used in roleplaying until now.

Don't believe me? Read on as I try to explain my line of reasoning.

#1: Conflict, not Combat.

Contrary to the picture of O'Brian up there, a large number of Next Generation episodes had little or no combat. Now, compare to 4e, which actively encourages all problems to be resolved through combat encounters. A good GM will avoid this problem and craft a good plot for his players to enjoy regardless, but often a poor GM will just fall back on using combat to handle any given situation.

Going to meet the king to discuss building a new drainage ditch in your hometown? Assassins jump out and ambush you. Going to the hairdressers to get a new coif? Assassins will jump out and ambush you. A plague is ravaging the land? Don't worry, just kill a bunch of assassins, it'll go away.

I love a good combat more than the next person, but there's a limit to the amount of hacking and slashing you can do without getting bored.

Conflict is the basis for most of the fun in an rpg, and conflict does not necessarily mean combat. Conflict can range from anything to a kidnapping that must be resolved without creating a war between two nations or a caravan breakdown in the middle of a sandstorm; neither of those situations need combat to resolve them. The other night I ran a Pathfinder game that didn't even have a hint of combat, just the sense that if they failed to discover the cause of a rash of poisonings in town several vital NPCs would die.

Nothing says a non-combat quest needs to be fetch-and-carry. Give the players a chance to think what their characters would realistically do to resolve a problem.

And if that turns out to be "Stab things in the face until they stop", hey so be it.

#2: Do it Your Way.

"Sir, we just blew the borg up." "What, all of them?" "Pretty much." "Oh. Guess we go home then."

Characters in Next Generation rarely solve the problems that face them in the same manner. Worf would be just as likely to want to incapacitate a foe as Troi would negotiate with it. Unfortunately, some GMs are not the same.

Any good gamemaster will provide plenty of opportunity for players to creatively wrangle themselves out of a given situation. But I've played with enough poor ones who force players to solve arbitrary puzzles. Even when a clever solution is presented, the GM refuses to allow it any chance of success because it's not how they "envisioned" the players to solve it.

Heck, I've even taken to crafting up situations without any idea on how they could be resolved. I'll just twist things so that whatever manner my players want to solve the situation, be it a puzzle involving dozens of levers or a tense standoff, things will work out, maybe in their favor, maybe not. I don't always create a sure-fire solution. It doesn't cheapen the thrill if the players feel like they solved it with their own ingenuity, as opposed to guessing what their gamemaster wants them to do.

So let your players scheme to blow up the death moon satellite go through even if it ruins your planned ending. Reward the players for their cleverness and encourage that sort of gameplay, so long as it is in-character.

It just means you have to find other ways to make their lives more complicated.

#3: Retaining Continuity.

Hey guys, Wesley's back! You all remember Wesley, right? Yay! ...Or maybe not.

Star Trek as a whole is a big mish-mash of continuity. But most of Next Generation keeps itself in careful check, referencing past episodes and events with regularity. And it's something you should keep in mind if you're going to be running a long campaign.

Most GM's I know already do this, but it bears repeating: Take a million notes. Write down everything and use it.

Players who take their own notes and keep track of minor NPCs and the events of previous adventures will definitely appreciate when their attention is rewarded.

When that Gnomish shopkeeper with the funny voice and bizarre hair shows up again in a different city, players will know there's a story behind it and that it likely ties into their own reasons for being there. Yet when you call that shopkeeper Jacob during their first encounter and Janice the next, it ruins the mood and makes those attentive players give up because, hey, if the GM isn't going to care about the details why should they?

Conversely, don't overdo it. Never force your players to remember little bits of minutiae from past adventures. Reward those who do, but don't punish those who don't.

Okay, so none of these were really tied into Star Trek all that much. But damn it, it's what I've been watching so there needed to be a connection somewhere. Plus, I've found that though these three bits of advice are extremely basic for any experienced gamemaster there are still a few I'm going to direct to this article. Like myself, one year ago.

Hmm, but to do that I'll need a temporal vortex to go back in time...now which episode was that in again?

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Published on 7/26/2011 Written by 4 comments

Steal An Adventure Tonight

Last Saturday night, my group wanted to play a game. Cool, I'm down with that. We had a little trouble deciding what to play. 4-Color Heroes? D6 Horror? Maybe some D&D? Most of the indecision came from me, the GM, because I didn't really have anything prepared. I had a simple 4C adventure, but no one seemed very enthused about that. I had nothing for D&D, but I would have been willing to wing it if everyone would have been willing to play old-school Basic or Labyrinth Lord. We had last left off on our homebrew horror game (which Joe Nelson tried out last week, too, check it out here), but I was really unprepared for that. I'm shitty at writing horror-survival-supernatural adventures at the best of times. Trying to run one ad-hoc would have have been a total train wreck.

I really, really wanted to put a picture of Amy Winehouse here, but at the last minute decided it would be too inappropriate. So here's a kitten instead.

Usually my horror games are basically Dungeons & Dragons, replacing the Dungeons with Creepy Old Houses and the Dragons with Zombies. I try to set up some spooky atmosphere but it quickly devolves into players beating on undead minions with crowbars, or blasting them with shotguns. I honestly don't even know how to write a horror adventure, let alone run one. What do I do when my players want to play one?

Then it hit me. A few months ago, a buddy of mine was starting to GM for the first time, and was trying to decide what game to run (he settled on Battlestar Galactica). I gave him some suggestions and pointers, advice which I should probably think to take myself from time to time. As I recall, there were two major suggestions, that I think any new Game Master should take under advisement:

1 - Play what you know. This either means a system you've played before, or at least a world/setting you're familiar with and enjoy. If you've never GMed before, and you've never played F.A.T.A.L., and you're not into violent misogynistic fantasy, then you're probably going to have a pretty crappy game.

In all honesty, setting fire to the rule book is really the best one can hope for from a game of F.A.T.A.L.

2 - Find a pre-written adventure and steal it.

It's that rule #2 that I forget about all the time. For a new GM, it's a godsend. How are you supposed to write an adventure for a game you've never played? The first couple of pre-written adventures I ever ran were bad, so I've always gravitated away from running someone else's work. That's stupid and short-sighted of me. When running a game that I've never played before, why would I try to reinvent the wheel when thousands of people before me have already figured out that square wheels don't work?

So, for my d6 Horror adventure, which I modeled after Call of Cthulhu, I went to the source to find a prefab adventure module, from Chaosium's website. There are dozens of free modules there. Not all are great, but they provide excellent framework and are easily adaptable to my own needs. A few Google searches provided many more links.

There are lots of places out there to get good, free, download-able adventures. Using someone else's adventure is not a dirty thing to do, nor do I think it's wrong to tweak it to serve your own ends. If you're in a rush, or have a new system, it's a great way to get started quickly.

So how did it go? I've have to let you know. We never actually got to play last weekend - family commitments and all that - but now I am ready to go at the drop of a hat for next time. It's nice being prepared.

Though not as prepared as this guy. He's definitely ready for something. I doubt it's a relationship with a woman.

Anyone else have great places to find free adventures? Lemme know. Robbery is the sincerest form of flattery.

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Published on 7/21/2011 Written by 2 comments

Mini D6 Horror

Horror games have never really been my bag. I prefer space operas or fantasy adventures, both to run and to play. But I do love me some Lovecraft. So when our own C.D. delivered a simple little horror mod for d6, I just knew I had to try it.

Finally, after numerous false starts, and some unexpected gaming interruption, I found the time last week to take the rules out and test drive them with a little game. We used the Mini Six rules variant because it's cute and trim.

I had three players and we'd all agreed that everyone would be members of an organization called Company Y, dedicated to confronting the paranormal and otherworldly evils that haunt the world. Think a little like the X Files but more like E Branch from Brian Lumley's Necroscope novels. Many of the operatives would have special abilities or supernatural powers.

We had a sun vampire, who required massive doses of vitamin D to survive in place of blood. It made night time excursions tough because all of his attributes were at half their ordinary levels.

A gallon of 2% was as vital to this party as a 10-foot pole.

Next came the psychic woman who could see into the future. That was fun because we decided that unlike most games where the success of a roll determined whether or not the future could be seen, this psychic could always be 100% certain of seeing the future. Unfortunately, if the roll was failed the future seen would be invariably bad. So peeking into the future too often could lead to ugly consequences down the road...

"Guys, I've got some good news and some bad news..."

Then finally we had a mysterious German who, frankly, didn't really have any powers so far as I know. Other than being creepy and wearing dark sunglasses all the time. He was just an expert human to round out the group. Sort of like Dolph Lundgren. But a lot less badass.

Depicted here single-handedly defeating global communism. With a sword.

Anyway, the plot was short and simple. There was something creepy happening in a small village in South Africa, people disappearing, strange lights, bizarre births with malformed babies. You know, a typical Monday morning for a group dedicated to fighting ghouls and ghosts.

Aided by a South African cop, the group made short work of the mystery, exploring three key areas, piecing together a simple set of clues, following the evidence, and spending a creepy night in a small shack while outside Bad Things happened.

Overall the experience was good.

In the tradition of Mini Six making things smooth and so there would be less rolling, I used static numbers for the level of scary sights and grisly happenings. Keeping it simple I used 6 as the lowest sort of terror (a gruesome crime scene, alone in a room with a creepy sound) and went up in increments of three at a time, finally topping off with a massive 18 for a shadowed beast doing unspeakable things to an NPC. I didn't want to overwhelm my players with too many hard rolls right off the bat but I probably moderated things a little too well as they did just fine.

Next alternation I made was a little more significant; I did away with the random attribute penalty when their Sanity fell too low. I had each player select a weakest attribute, even if it was one they had put the most dice in, and every time they failed their Wits vs. Horror that would be the attribute lowered. This led to the players roleplaying out different phobias and quirks, such as the vampire's increasing surliness and inarticulate mumbling as his Charm dropped.

Of course, as gamemaster, that meant I had to find fun and exciting ways to abuse these lowered attributes. After all it doesn't not seem so bad to lose some charisma, until you, as acting team leader, have to explain your presence to the police at the scene of a vicious homicide.

In the end, everyone enjoyed the game and the system. Mini Six worked well at providing a more relaxed investigative sort of game, with a healthy mix of skill rolls and player choice providing a nice open-ended experience. And C.D.'s little mod fit in like a glove.

Two other additions I made were the inclusions of a specific type of drug and a purchasable perk.


Desensitized (2): This perk usually indicates a character who can stomach the smallest of the unnatural terrors that lurk in the world. Once per scene, you may opt not to roll for a single horror event totaling less than 10, considering it an automatic success.


The drug is a fictional inhibitor called Texotriptomaline that, when ingested, allows any character to ignore horror rolls of 8 or lower, counting them as an automatic success. However, it will slow their response time, giving them a -1 penalty to all Agility-based rolls and requiring them to act last in initiative order. The drug may be taken once every six hours without fear of overdose and takes thirty minutes to go into effect. Its effects last for about an hour. If more pills are taken during a six hour time you must roll your character's Might against a DC of 12; failure indicates a crippling dependency on the drug and takes your Sanity to a permanent Disturbed level until drug rehabilitation therapy can be provided.


I'll tell you this, I'm definitely looking forward to more adventures with these messed up paranormal investigators, and next time, we bring out the big guns of terror.

Yes, they will need a bigger boat.
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Published on 7/19/2011 Written by 4 comments

RPG Blog Carnival: How to Make a Bad Ass RPG

(This is my contribution to the July RPG Blog Carnival. Click on that link for more Bad Ass Gaming.)

How Do You Make a Bad Ass RPG?

Easy. You just need more bad asses.

It seems obvious, when you put it that way. But most games just don't contain enough ass, let alone "bad" asses. To find a game that contained enough bad asses, I had to go way back to the old Palladium Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles & Other Strangeness game. As I've bitched before, as a rule I hate anything Kevin Siembieda touches, but they did get some cool licenses from time to time (the other one of course being ROBOTECH), and to be fair, this one is actually by Eric Wujcik, not Siembieda.

Anyway, without further ado, allow me to demonstrate how to bad assify a game...

Many years ago, a kind man named Juan Sanchez ran a coffee plantation in Columbia. He was very generous to his employees, and loved them all like his family, though his most prized companions were his four young faithful donkeys, whom he raised like his sons (his real sons having moved to Europe so they didn't have to live like slaves on a fucking coffee plantation). Juan spent every day with his donkeys, caring for them and cheering for them as they carried their heavy loads of coffee beans down from the mountains.

One day, while Juan and his donkeys were walking their mountain paths as they had a thousand times before, a gang of Yakuza ninjas jumped out of the jungle and attacked them. The Columbian drug cartels had drawn the ire of the Japanese mafia, who had sent the assassins to deal with their enemies. The ninjas mistook
Juan for a drug dealer and stabbed him through heart while his faithful donkeys honked and brayed helplessly.

The ninja, thinking the donkeys could be used back home in one of tho
se shows they had seen in Mexico (the Japanese of course being very open to other cultures when it comes to sexual perversions), packed the beasts up and sent them to Tokyo.

The Yakuza never expected the donkeys to escape.

They never expected them be accidentally exposed to
a top-secret government radioactive mutagen, that would transform the donkeys into intelligent, humanoid mutants thirsty for revenge.

They never expected the donkeys to seek out a rival ninja master, to teach them how to extra
ct that revenge...
They're the world's most fearsome biting team. Also, kicking, braying and stinking.

So who are our Bad Asses? Let's introduce them.

The Leader
Alignment: Unprincipled
Attributes: Intellect 16, Willpower 18, Charisma 17, Strength 15, Agility 20, Endurance 23, Beauty 5, Speed 11
Hit Points: 28, S.D.C.: 130
Military Science, History of War, Basic Mathematics, Hand to Hand Combat: Ninjitsu, General Athletics, Body Building, Boxing, Climbing, Gymnastics, Prowl, Swimming: Basic,
Pick Locks, Tracking, Art (Pottery), Gardening, Art (Poetry)
Weapon Proficiencies: Nodaichi, Katana, Shuriken

Warhol is cool, calm, devoted leader of this motley crew. He trains harder than his brothers, and while the others will jump into any battle or fight without provocation, Warhol will act as the voice of reason when necessary. His weapon of choice is the nodaichi (two-handed greatsword), but he also enjoys pottery, gardening and slam poetry.

The Rebel
Alignment: Anarchist
Attributes: Intellect 12, Willpower 15, Charisma 11, Strength 20, Agility 18, Endurance 25, Beauty 3, Speed 15
Hit Points: 30, S.D.C.: 151
Military Science, History of War, Basic Mathematics, Hand to Hand Combat: Ninjitsu, General Athletics, Body Building, Boxing, Climbing, Gymnastics, Prowl, Swimming: Basic,
Pick Locks, Escape Artist, Study (Porno)
Weapon Proficiencies: Kama, Nunchaku, Shuriken

Pollock is the gritty, brooding loner that all the mutant donkey ladies want to be with. If anything, he is an even more talented warrior than Warhol, but his temper and bad attitude often gets him in trouble over his head. His weapon of choice is the kama, and he enjoys smoking, watching UFC and pornography.

The Wild One
Alignment: Anarchist
Attributes: Intellect 11, Willpower 16, Charisma 19, Strength 16, Agility 24, Endurance 22, Beauty 7, Speed 14
Hit Points: 26, S.D.C.: 142
Hand to Hand Combat: Ninjitsu, General Athletics, Body Building, Boxing, Climbing, Gymnastics, Prowl, Swimming: Basic, Pick Locks, Escape Artist, Pilot Automobile, Gynecology, Study (Film), TV/Video
Weapon Proficiencies: Chain, Bo Staff, Shuriken

Every team needs comic relief, and that generally falls to Dali. Some walk a fine line between genius and insanity, but Dali somersaulted over that line years ago. Having eaten a sack full of cocaine when he was a baby (they leave bags of cocaine lying around in Columbia, right?), Dali's brain never matured properly and he is prone to hallucinations, and often speaks in slurred, broken speech. Still, he is fearless and fiercely loyal to his brothers. His weapon of choice is the manriki-gusari (hooked blade and chain), but he is just as likely to beat opponents to death with a mailbox, a shoe or whatever's handy. He is also obsessed with Woody Allen movies.

The Brains
Alignment: Unprincipled
Attributes: Intellect 19, Willpower 17, Charisma 12, Strength 13, Agility 17, Endurance 18, Beauty 4, Speed 10
Hit Points: 23, S.D.C.: 118
Automotive Mechanics, Computer Operation, Computer Programming, Computer Repair, Electrical Engineering, Demolitions, Mathematics: Advanced, Mechanical Engineering, Hand to Hand Combat: Ninjitsu, Climbing, Prowl, Pick Locks, Musical Instrument (Cello)
Weapon Proficiencies: Naginata, Ninja bow, Shuriken

Had he not been born a donkey, Lichtenstein would have revolutionized the field of computer engineering. Able to remotely hack coffee machines from half-way around the world (and other ridiculous feats of technology that Hollywood would have us believe are possible), Lichtenstein can also build a jet pack out of coffee cans and a cigarette lighter. He is not as fierce a warrior as his brothers, but when you can build a nuclear bomb from items you find under your sink, you don't have to be. When he is forced to fight he prefers a naginata (pole arm) to keep his enemies as far away from him as possible. He also likes to play the cello.

So what do you think of my contribution to Bad Ass Gaming? I hope I wasn't too esoteric. Maybe I should have been more literal...

Actual Game Master Ass. That's pretty bad, but not as bad as this.
WARNING: Do not click on that link.

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Published on 7/16/2011 Written by 3 comments

Saturday Sorcery: More Old Magic Spells

Many moons ago, I shared with you some spells from an old AD&D 2nd Edition campaign (see here and here). Well, I keep finding more of those old spells that we designed in our misspent days of youth, so I thought I would share a few more with you.

These are Magic-User spells, researched and created by the wizard Scorpio (and inspired by the player Brad S.). Scorpio was a hard, blood-thirsty war wizard whose best friend was a surly dwarf. He liked practical, usually deadly spells with kick. Here are a few of his patented invocations:

Scorpio's Lesser Fireball
Level: 2
Range: 5 yds. + 5 yds./level
Components: V, S, M
Duration: Instant
Casting Time: 5
Area of Effect: 5ft-radius
Saving Throw: ½

Scorpio hated goblins. Absolutely loathed them, and he loved nothing better than killing as many of them as possible. Too impatient to wait until 5th-level so he could learn fireball, he conconcted his own spell, specially designed to scatter (and hopefully incinerate) tightly-pack groups of goblins in dungeon corridors.

This spell is nearly identical to the 3rd-level spell fireball, except for the modifications to range and area of effect described above, and that it only inflicts 1d2+1 damage per level of the caster, to a maximum of 10D2 +10 damage at 10th level.

The material component for this spell is a goblin’s penis (Brad’s idea, not mine).

Quiet Steps
Level: 1
Range: 0
Components: V, S, M
Duration: 1 turn/level
Casting Time: 1 round
Area of Effect: The caster
Saving Throw: None

This spell grants upon the caster the special thief ability Move Silently. The ability works exactly like the thief ability, with a base chance of success of 40%, modified by +5% per level of the caster. This base chance is not modified by Dexterity, though it is affected by the character’s race and his encumbrance (see section on Thieves in the Player’s Handbook).

Once the caster has achieved 5th level or higher, he may opt to cast this spell on another character instead of himself. In this case, the base chance is reduced to 30%, and the duration is halved.

The material component for this spell is a sprinkle of salt water.
Note: Scorpio never used this to sneak past or avoid enemies. Its only purpose was to get behind foes and stab them in the back.

Thorn of Torture
Level: 2
Range: 50 yds. +10 yds./level
Components: V, S, M
Duration: Instant (Permanent)*
Casting Time: 2
Area of Effect.: Special
Saving Throw: None

This spell creates magical thorns, similar to magic missiles, which strike out at any target chosen by the caster within the spell’s range.

The caster may create 1 thorn per level, which appears magically before him and then flies at high speed towards it chosen victims. Each thorn inflicts 1d4 points of piercing damage, and the thorns may be fired at any number of different targets or the same target, at the caster’s option.

One roll to hit is made for each creature targeted by this spell. If the roll is successful, all thorns hit. If the roll fails, all thorns miss. All attack rolls are modified by +3.

After the thorns hit, they will stay in the creature’s body until removed. Removing the thorns does not inflict any additional damage, though the pulling of each thorn adds 1 to the creature’s initiative roll. If the thorns are ignored, the creature suffers -1 to all of its attack rolls and saving throws for as long as at least one thorn is in its body.

The material component of this spell is a rose stem, which is consumed in the casting.

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Published on 7/12/2011 Written by 10 comments

Review: Fox Magic (Furries: The RPG)

I am a sucker for self-published material. I cannot go to book fairs anymore, because I keep coming home with terrible self-published first novels that I will never read but bought because I wanted to support the author. Thus, when I went into my FLGS a few months ago and saw a sign proclaiming "New Game From Local Authors," I was compelled to buy it. That's how I came into possession of Fox Magic, the RPG from Fool's Moon Entertainment (also available as a PDF download at RPGNow).

What is Fox Magic? Here's the blurb from the company's (rather bland) website:
"Fox magic is a role playing game inspired by one of the most fascinating creatures in Japanese folklore: the Kitsune. Using a newly developed game mechanic called the Story Point System, Fool's Moon Entertainment Inc. introduces a new type of role playing game, where the players control more of the game, and the game master is not the god he used to be."

For reference, a Kitsune is an intelligent, personified, sometimes anthropomorphic fox spirit. Each player gets the play their own Kitsune, and wield weird magical powers in a variety of settings and periods.

First, let me get this out of the way:

Yeah, you know where this is going...

While I want to be supportive, and I want to write a serious review, I cannot get past the fact that this is essentially Furries: The RPG. Yes, those guys and gals that have a fetish for dressing up and pretending to be animals. What other audience could this game possible target? The only player characters are foxes, and you spend the whole game going about doing... fox things. Sure, you may fight some bad guys or something along the way, but the majority of the game just seems to be about hanging around talking about how awesome it is to have a tail. Or many tails, since Kistsune gain extra tails as they grow in power and experience. They're like experience levels. In tails form.

If you can get past the image of people having sex in Muppet costumes, there is actually some cool game stuff in here.

No seriously, just ignore this part.

First, the game uses 12-sided dice exclusively. The d12 doesn't get nearly enough love in gaming circles, despite having some impressive mathematical properties (such as being divisible by 2, 3, 4 AND 6), so it's nice to see someone going out of their way to make the d12 matter.

Second, this Story Points System is actually pretty sweet for those who want to role-play and tell stories (ie, people who don't play D&D 4E). Basically, the game master sets up the scene as usual, but then the players use their Story Points to steal control of the scenario and take the story in the direction they want to go. This is not entirely a free-form, collective story-telling exercise, though - there are very specific rules on how to take control, and there is strategy to it. It's like the players' main antagonists are not thoughtless humans encroaching on their sacred lands, or dry-cleaners asking what these weird fucking stains are on their Disney-style character costumes, but the Game Master himself. In a weird way, this game actively promotes conflict between the players and the GM in their drive to tell the story, and that's just kinda awesome.

There are some flaws (besides the elephant - I mean, accountant-in-a-bunny-costume - in the room), though I love that they used the d12, it was a completely arbitrary choice. As general rule, you succeed at checks on rolls of 7 or better, which means you could just a d6 with a success on 4.

Another beef I have, and I admit this is totally a personal opinion (but since this is a blog, fuck it), is that I'm not impressed with the setting. It just seems kinda vague to me. Sure, it has sample antagonists, and a fairly-detailed example of play, and an extensive history of feudal Japan cribbed from Wikipedia, but on a whole I still don't understand how you would play this game, and certainly not how you would run an extended campaign.

Honestly I have no idea how to work this into a game.

I cannot stress enough that it's probably just my taste, but lists of historic Japanese dates and evil spirits does not make me want to pretend to be three-tailed fox. Maybe someone who is more into Japanese mysticism or LARPing in second-hand Disney costumes would get this game, but overall this is just not something I could get into.

Overall, I think this game has some good points. It has kitsch appeal, and the Story Point System contains some untapped brilliance. Unfortunately, the game is marred by a weak (at least in my opinion) setting, and is a little overpriced. Even the PDF on RPGNow costs $15, which is too much for what feels like an incomplete game.

Still, if you A) like me feel the urge to support Canadian game designers or B) have a thing for pretending to be animals, you may want to check out this game.

No, really. If this does it for you, then man, have I got that game for you...

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