Thursday, October 28, 2010

Someone is wrong on the Internet! And a bonus chart!

Attributed to an ENWorld forum person:

"Finally, let it be noted that sandbox play is not for the cautious. It only works properly for players who are risk-takers, and don't mind a higher death rate... For risk-averse players, or those too attached to PCs, sandbox games are inappropriate, because they induce a sort of paralysis, where, by avoiding risk too successfully, the PCs effectively remove themselves from the ranks of adventurers."

That's crap. Pretentious crap, even. Where I come from, we play games to play characters - having an attachment to the PC is the most funnest part. Casual PC death isn't exciting; it's a punishment. So my sandbox is less lethal than the one described above. I betcha my players will still enjoy it.

On another note, complaining about a secondhand quote from a stranger's years-old blog post isn't the most productive use of my time. Would anyone like a random chart?

1. Character gets a nasty cold.
2. Character sleeps poorly; is exhausted all next day.
3. Fierce rain or snowstorm.
4. Random person falsely accuses character of attacking/mugging them.
5. Pocket gets picked.
6. Witness a wagon accident.
7. Trip and fall; sprain something.
8. Town guard/soldiers hassle you.
9. Stranger hands character a sealed pouch/scroll case (1000 cp, map, mystery key...)
10. Two men pull a struggling woman into a coach.
11. Juggler or troubador won't leave party alone.
12. Charcter acquires a mysterious blue glow.
13. A main weapon is stolen... or is it just mislaid?
14. Plague victim sneezes on you.
15. See some wizard eye, which winks out immediately.
16. Loyal but protective dog attaches to a character.
17. Ornately-clad warrior challenges character to single combat.
18. Accidentally eat hallucinogenic mushroom.
19. Character mistaken for town hero - or local outlaw.
20. Messenger accidentally gives character someone else's letter.
21. Mischevious sprite swaps characters' belongings over and over and over...
22. Find wooden totem that speaks if touched (strange language?).
23. Cross a stream running in wrong direction.
24. Keep hearing thunder on a sunny day; maybe find recent lightning strikes?
25. Path has unexpected fork.
26. Townspeople refuse to talk to or do business with party (curse? guild threat? bad rep?)
27. All gold turns to copper (illusion, maybe).
28. Falcon dives at character when they try to eat.
29. Big monster nearby spooks horses.
30. A boot dies during travel.
31. Assassin tries to buy poison from you.
32. Runaway horse, or wagon, or something bigger - gryphon, wyvern...
33. Accidentally disarm a companion.
34. Locals demand surrender of all edged weapons.
35. Irritated wizard curses you to laugh whenever you lie.
36. Campfire gets out of hand.
37. Find a piece of apparently unattended jewelry.
38. Bard wants to join party (incompetent?).
39. Noble treats character(s) as servant(s).
40. "Oracle" proclaims an incomprehensible destiny.
41. Stumble upon fresh corpse.
42. Bottom of backpack gives way.
43. Someone is knocked into a mud puddle, or watering trough, or manure cart...
44. Receive word that a close friend is gravely ill.
45. Keep seeing the same scarecrow...
46. Fall into undiscovered cavern or barrow.
47. Lose voice somehow (or can only speak in rhyme).
48. Rations have gone moldy - now what?
49. Rockslide, falling tree, shifting sand...
50. Painful swollen spider bite.'s a chance to finally use that d50 of yours. I found this list in an old folder - I have no idea how old it is. I'd still use most of these.

Monday, October 25, 2010

I spoke too soon

I might have a new favorite campaign - the girls asked me to start the 7th Sea sandbox on Saturday, and it was awesome.

Short form: Aging runewitch, lightning-fast fencer, axe baron, and useless poet lead an expedition to an unknown land at the behest of Queen Elizabeth. Dour religious locals were ignored. Looming forests were investigated. Saw mysterious "winged men." Natives were discovered. Hostilities were considered. The dreaded claw-apes encircled and attacked everyone. Desparate alliance cut its way through. Escorted to the caves. "Winged men" were actually 30-foot bats. With riders. Useless poet jumped off cliff to prove worthy of bat-riding. Useless poet set house record for Highest 7th Sea Die Roll, getting a 79 on a Wits + Dancing check. Group headed into wilderness, searching for the defector Cavendish.

And it must have been fun, since the girls wanted to play again last night. We spent a couple hours investigating the mysterious tunnel that swallowed our faithful Black Hand guide, Aodo.

The long form writeup would include the unexpected (and welcome!) presence of my old friend Ryan, who happened to be in town. He took on the role of Klauss von Axtberg, a disorderly Germanic noble who's on this team as a condition of his release from jail for drunken brawling. Axtberg, if you wondered, means "mountain of axes." Ryan has the right idea, along with 16 points of dracheneisen gear.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Four years is an eternity in meme-time

I follow a few RPG blogs nowadays. My current favorite is Jeff's Gameblog, with its mixture of sharp wit, regular updates, and that awesome picture of IG-88 decked out like a wizard. You might know it already from Jeff's Threefold Model, which taught us that Mike Mearls is Retro-Stupid while I'm almost entirely Pretentious. The two are opposites. I enjoy that, because Mike Mearls wrote the excellent d20 game Iron Heroes and I wrote two of the first supplements, Song of the Blade and To Duel With Dragons. This might explain why I never got any fan mail from Iron Heroes players.

Anyway, Jeff's blog is good enough that I'm trawling the archive. All 5 years of it. Back in 2006, he mentioned that he'd picked up To Duel With Dragons and was looking for Song of the Blade. Now I'm on tenterhooks, waiting to see if he'll express an opinion. So far, as of mid-July '06, nothing. But right near that post he had a list of his all-time top 10 favorite campaigns. Apparently this was a Thing back then. So, four years late, I thought I'd do the same. It's a neat way of considering my preferences. Here's my list.

1) Gorbadin II - Fantasy HERO, 1993-96 (GM)
2) Return to New Liberty City - HERO/Champions, early 2000s (GM)
3) The Untouchables - HERO/Champions, 1990-2000 (GM)
4) The Protectors - Marvel Super Heroes, 1989-1992 (GMand occasional player)
5) Aldonia II - D&D 3e, early 2000s (GM)
6) Aeric Kellmer Is Unstuck In Time - Star Wars, 1990-present? (player)
7) The Inge Saga - 7th Sea, 2006-present (GM)
8) Alfonse & Ryle - D&D 2e, 1993-1995 (player)
9) Ohoster - D&D 2e, 1989-1992 (GM)
10) The Blue Team - HERO and KURST, 1990-1996 (player and GM) I'd rather run games than play in them, and I really like the HERO system. No surprises there.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Dramatic personae

I was thinking about my 7th Sea sandbox. "Wouldn't it be fun," thought I, "if the players had an NPC along to talk to, protect, pull out of deathtraps, and generally interact with?" Because I do love GM NPCs. When the ninja assassin Silver defected to the PCs' superteam in the middle of an all-out ninja assault,* she generated many sessions' worth of tension and subplots, along with a longstanding romantic thread for the one player who enjoyed that kind of thing. When the cleric wanted a wizard hireling, I gave him the crazy wizard dude from the Conan movie, thrilling him and annoying the ranger no end. GM NPCs are great.

But not everyone loves them. I'm not even talking about the problems with the GMPC - the dude who outshines everyone else because they're the GM's secret special pet character. I rein 'em in better than that. There are just some players who don't want NPCs hanging around the party at all. For example, my crazy wizard dude annoyed the ranger no end. Maybe they find GM NPCs annoying, or maybe I just run them in annoying ways.

So over dinner, I asked my wife and kids what they thought. Would they like it if I added an NPC to their party, or would they rather go it alone? My ever-pragmatic wife said "Why not give us several NPCs that we can hire if we feel like it?"

Leaving the choice in the PCs' hands - what a sandbox concept. I gotta write this stuff down...

So now I'm sketching out 5 NPCs who could be hired, recruited, or forced into joining the 3 PCs on their trek to an unknown land full of danger and mystery and nasty biting things. Because there are so many, and because I'm not forcing them to take someone along, I can make the NPCs as weird and annoying as I want. Everybody wins. So far I've sketched out a Wandering Knight of the Rose & Cross (who's trying to impress a girl), a fat coward who's an excellent camp cook/roustabout, a Spanish scholar who's perhaps too interested in monsters, and a crusty old French cartographer with a death wish. I love people like that.

*It was the early 1990s. There were a lot of ninjas back then.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Your school is old? Mine was a long, long time ago...

I'm not part of the Old School Renaissance or whatever OSR is supposed to stand for, but I follow blogs from a few people who are. They've come up with some good stuff. A couple of the best game writers I've found are part of the OSR movement. But there's one major flaw in all their work, even the good stuff - it's all about D&D.

I've certainly got nothing against D&D. It's the first RPG I ever played; it's the lingua franca of most roleplayers; freelance D&D writing bought me a car once. A cheap car that's currently self-destructing, mind you, but a car nonetheless. However, there are more old games than Gary And Dave's Original Brand Dungeons Ampersand Dragons. Some of them are even, dare I say it, better.

When I want to teach someone what an RPG is, or when I've got a large group of mixed ability, or when I want a rules-light game that can handle whatever the players throw at it, I turn to this:

Take your eyes out of the dungeon and look up at the stars, people. The first edition of Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game, lovingly crafted by Greg Costikyan and West End Games, is where it's at. Flexible character creation. Skills that are both minimalist and robust. As much monster and environment craziness as you care to use. And everybody knows the backstory.

Except for this one argumentative 12-year-old I once had in a game, who'd only seen part of the original movie and wasn't impressed. Even she had a good time.

Can we call a game from 1987 "old school"? Yep. It's almost one generation old as humans go; that makes it ancient for an RPG. And it's had a shoddy remake by WOTC, which ought to qualify Star Wars as "old school" in anybody's book. It even has some horrible clunky mechanics that you can easily house-rule without breaking the game. For my money, the very first edition is easily the best one - it has a velocity and looseness that got sucked out of later iterations.

And when I play, the only canonical part of the Star Wars universe is the very first movie. I enjoy new games and new ideas, but sometimes you have to stick with the basics.

Monday, September 27, 2010

A good throughline is important

I feel like running a game.

I'm thinking of a sandboxed version of 7th Sea. Great game, mediocre setting. It doesn't exactly lend itself to the low-resource wilderness-exploring kind of campaign that I'd like to run. But listen:

The Three Musketeers in the Lost World.

Duels on pterodactyl-back. A colony of eerily intelligent velociraptors. Plateus and rock formations jutting from the earth like the fists of an angry past. Forests alive with cannibals, winged men, and ghosts. If I can get my head out of colonial America, it could be a lot of fun.

I think I'm going to run it for my wife and kids. The wife has a 7th Sea character she loves above all others. My girls are both old enough now to enjoy this kind of system. And my ideal group is 3 players - enough that everyone has something to do, not so many that they can do everything. Can I run a sandbox game? Dunno. It'll be fun to try.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Obligatory welcome statement is GO!

My name is Matt. I'm not actually anybody's uncle, although my sister's girlfriend has kids from a previous relationship, so I guess I'm kind of a quasi-step-uncle. It's a tough concept to explain but a fun phrase to type.

I wanted a place to write about roleplaying. Several writers that I respect are using Blogger/Blogspot, so I thought I'd try it. I've been playing RPGs since 1983, running them since 1988, freelance writing/editing them since 2000. Haven't done any of the latter in a few years, for reasons that I doubt you'd be interested in knowing. But I still have ideas for them, along with a back catalog of material that I might want to toss out to the anonymous sharkpit that is the Internet.

So, welcome. I don't promise regular updates. This is an outlet for me, not a vocation. We'll see if it's interesting.