Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Dungeon World quick review

The usual Star Wars gang tried something new last weekend -- Dungeon World. I was impressed. While it has the trappings of older D&D-style games, Dungeon World uses some interesting bite-sized mechanics called "moves" that streamline play. You can hunt up the official page for yourself, but since it's based on OGL content, a lot of it is online for free.

It's a simple game. Not as bare-bones as the original Gnomemurdered!, which still sets the standard for ease of play, but you could teach it to your eight-year-old kid or your fortysomething-friend-who-hasn't-roleplayed-much. Character generation is basically a flowchart. The idea of moves makes it easy for players to decide on their actions. Its skeleton is D&D, so it's a snap to pick up if you know that game already.

Dungeon World also buys into some of the things I don't want in a game. Classes? Yes. Hit points? Yes (although I don't think they increase with experience, which is a plus). Halflings? Yes. Railroading PCs down specific stereotypical developmental tracks? Yes.

I haven't looked over the GM rules carefully yet. They have a weird storygame vibe, but they might also make the play experience more fun.

I think you could easily fix most of the things I don't like --f'rinstance, make the list of starting moves open to all new PCs, to get rid of that musty 1970s smell. It's simple and modular enough to accommodate that. Dungeon World looks like a solid little game that's worth your attention.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Booze + Lumberjacks = Goofy Monsters

There just ain't much to do, here in the woods of 19th-century North America, but drink cheap whiskey and hallucinate monsters. Gotta hope that people write books about our tall tales, and maybe a century later Wired will be invented and do an article on those books.

The whole thing is worth browsing through. Some of the illustrations are charming, and a lot of the critters are a weird blend of wilderness and steam-age imagination. Like the Tripodero here...

Drawn by Coert Du Bois, apparently, and written up by William T. Cox

...who's supposed to have a rifle-style scope on his nose, in addition to his extensible legs. You could easily adapt a bunch of these beasties to a game of your own -- fantasy, sci-fi, steampunk, cyberpunk, weird modern, whatever. Here, let me give you a system-neutral hand with the Tripodero. I used an arbitrary points-out-of-seven scale:

Health: 4/7
Armor: 3/7
Speed: 4/7 (legs extended) or 2/7 (legs retracted)
Attacks: ranged 5/7 (clay spitshot), melee 2/7 (kick)
Stealth: 1/7 (legs extended) or 3/7 (legs retracted)
Etc: Enhanced vision; accuracy bonus with spitshot
Details: The tripodero is a carnivorous mammalbird that travels in small packs. It hunts by spitting small clay shot (also called quids) at high velocities; these are comparable to a medium-caliber bullet or heavy sling stone in terms of damage. A tripodero will forage for mineral-rich mud, which it "chews" in its mud gizzard to create the shot. Patient creatures, the tripodero will stalk prey from hundreds of yards away, combining its scope-sight with its eerie telescoping legs for maximum sight range. The clak-clak-clak of tripoderos raising and lowering themselves in the distant brush has haunted many explorers, and is often followed by the whizz-thak of its spitshot.

Monday, August 11, 2014

The perfidy of memory, or, At least we have pants

I dusted off an old idea and ran a Star Wars game where everyone woke up with amnesia. Nothing innovative there. But the execution worked so well, so smooth and unnerving, that it might interest people who aren't me and/or aren't running Star Wars games.

The session started with everyone waking up, dazed and with a weird taste in their mouths, surrounded by garbage. Nobody knew why. Everyone was wearing matching coveralls and had no shoes. Nobody knew why. All their equipment was gone, which is a great way to terrify players and motivate swift action. The one thing they were sure of was that they had agreed to do... something? With a deadline? Probably?

That took all of 30 seconds. Then I told them they could roll to remember things -- I like it when people are rolling dice. So they rolled dice for their Knowledge stats. Alas! Nobody had prioritized that stat! But they limped along as best they could, and for every 5 points in their total, they got a memory back. I mean, I actually handed them a tangible memory.

I had a deck of index cards. Each card had a sentence or two written on it. Got enough points? Get a card. Every now and then they could take time to try remembering more. Of course, time was in short supply. Eventually they stitched together an idea of What They Were Doing and did it. It even ended up being close to What They Had Agreed To Do.

These are the cards available. The players ended up with about 2/3 of them. It might make more sense with more campaign information, like knowing about the sinister purple-lightsaber-wielding Jedi who's hunting them, but the general flavor of the cards is there:

  • The code phrase is "The Jawa flies at midnight."
  • Someone in Engineering was flirting with you.
  • You snuck one of the droids on board with you.
  • After the jump to hyperspace, security will be much tighter.
  • Zal Duster is alive! AND HE'S A WOMAN!
  • Someone kept saying the name Ventik Doha.
  • The Engineering section is on lockdown.
  • Security Code 303736. That must mean something.
  • Desti Daven is pretty harmless for an Imperial bigwig.
  • You hid some gear in a cabinet in the Engineering sector.
  • Is that her? Dammit! That's her -- the angry one from the junkyard planet!
  • The ship's self-destruct has been activated.
  • Hold on... that guy's not "auxiliary security." He's a bounty hunter!
  • The most influential governor in this sector is Jessa Makepeace.
  • Garbage is dumped before every hyperspace jump.
  • That guy. Purple. Purple... That guy.
  • It's a diplomatic ship. Violence is not a good idea.
  • His "assistant" is an agent of Imperial intelligence!
  • Yes, but WHY was Dash wearing hooker makeup? And where did Hawke find that banjo?
  • Someone in Engineering is helping you save the governor.
  • The ship's main lounge has no security or monitoring.
  • Someone has poisoned the ration bars.
  • When it's done, you should escape on his ship.
  • You have to contact him BEFORE the jump to hyperspace.
  • Jessa Makepeace is the governor of the Oolooda sector.
  • A grinning face, big teeth, two horns...
  • Diplomats from the Lycu system smuggled you on board.
  • Gas. Yellow. Smelled like burning soil. Big smile... horns...
  • Governor Tarvo of the Lycu system has some Rebel sympathies.
  • Rogan A'Gamar is also Desti Daven.
  • An Imperial governors' conference? Could you be on a duller mission?
  • She has a hooked nose and you shouldn't trust her.
  • Boolan Sector. Good. Tovian Sector. Bad.
  • The counter-code is "Not without his golden slippers."
  • Then the R5 droid aimed its firefoam nozzle at you and chattered menacingly...
  • Yellow means unlocked. Red means locked.
  • One of the Zzohren brothers was seen talking to Imperial intelligence agents.
  • The command center is at the top deck of the bow.
  • One of the ship's security officers seemed to recognize Victarian.
  • While you were unconscious, they implanted cybernetic weapons in your face.
  • Someone in Engineering is helping you set the bomb.
  • If you persuade him to defect, several other Imperial governors may follow.
  • Jessa Makepeace can drink enough to kill a Gundark.
  • You don't have your ship. Why do you not have your ship? How will you escape?
  • Garbage pods aren't locked unless they're full.
  • The ship's captain is marrying... someone to a woman who looks like Greedo.
  • Lieutenant Ariella Forn, of the ship's security detail... she's not bad looking.
We did the same thing for equipment. Since they woke up in a trash compactor, there was a lot of miscellaneous stuff they could try to use as weapons, tools, barter, shoes, etc. I usually don't run an equipment-centered game; this was a nice change of pace for everyone. Having an unreliable vibroknife was better than the alternative.

Friday, August 8, 2014

How To Not Libel People

There's been drama... no, there's been DRAMA!!! with the launch of the free D&D 5E rules. If you're reading this, you probably know what's going on. You can check out Fail Forward or D&D With Porn Stars if you need to see what's what. I also liked this analysis by Mollpeartree and this evaluation by Richard and this essay by Mandy Morbid. There's tons more if you want to go down the rabbit hole.


If you accuse someone of things, you should provide evidence of your accusation. It's courtesy, it's intellectual honesty, it's sometimes even the law. Saying "these people told me in secret and I'm not sharing proof because secrets" is rarely enough. Your source's discomfort is not a defense. If you're reporting that Someone Said Something, you say who they are. People who won't go on the record are people you can't trust. Not everyone has the luxury of an adequate education at one of our nation's most publicly-funded journalism schools -- but I do. I paid my rent for years by reporting on what people said. Anonymous sources are bullshit.


To be fair, some people need anonymity to protect their lives or their livelihoods. I can see that. Heroic truth-tellers, whistleblowers, people who've suffered at the hands of the powerful. But these exceptions are rare. As far as I know, nobody's life or fortune is on the line here. Nobody in this fight is stabbing or stealing.

You don't have to like Zak S (I do, based on reading his stuff) or the RPGPundit (I mostly don't, based on reading his stuff). But if you attack them -- if you attack anyone -- you need to show your work. If you feel you can't, you need to show the reasons why not. If you can't do either of those things, you've crossed the line into libel.

Don't libel people. Don't hide behind anonymity. If you're in danger, get the police. If you're not in danger, own your statements.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Shadow of the Past

It's been a couple years since I did any real roleplaying. A couple of pick-up games for the teenagers, one Star Wars adventure that I'll remember to my grave, but other things needed to get done.

Now they're done.

I turn 40 this summer. What I really wanted for my birthday was a reunion of my old college roleplaying group. Long story short, it's happening. They're coming from hundreds and thousands of miles away to visit our old Fantasy Hero setting one more time, to see how 20 years have changed it. And changed us, of course, although that will probably just be "we're thicker and balder and have pictures of our kids."*

We played a lot of games in a lot of settings, but for three years this campaign was The Main Event. I ran it, so that's nice for my ego, but I can't take credit for its success. The world of Gorbadin is a pretty generic place. I literally threw it together one afternoon because a couple of my players said "We made these Fantasy Hero characters -- can we do something with them?" Sure, I developed the setting over time. I'm a world-builder. Not a world-innovator, though; my skills lie elsewhere. Gorbadin became the favorite because of the group's PCs. If you want to invent some critical jargon with me, think of the setting as an "OOTS world" -- like the background to Order Of The Stick, the world of Gorbadin is designed to be set dressing. The PCs were our focus. Joys, sorrows, goals, all that actor stuff (even though most of the players weren't actors). Gorbadin lasted for years because the guys wanted to keep being their characters, whether it was one PC the whole time or an improbable 37 of them.

So, having pulled this whole deal together, what do I do now?

*Typing that sentence reminded me that the college gang is one of only two all-male roleplaying groups I've been in. Huh.