RPG

This page lists the most recent journal entries related to role-playing games (RPG). There are some more pages on the related German page (Rollenspiele).

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2017-04-27 Rulings

One of the defining statements for the Old School Renaissance is often said to be “rulings, not rules”. So what are rulings? How do they come to pass? One fascinating document is the discussion of Eero Tuovinen’s D&D campaign. There, he treats D&D rules as oral tradition. If people remember a rule, it is applied. If a new rule is proposed on the spot, it is applied and if it remembered the next time such a situation comes up, it is applied again. The rules are what people can remember. Slowly, rules fade out and new ones fade in. It’s a living, mutual understanding of how the game will be played.

I want to talk about the process that leads to the proposal of rules. Here is something that happened recently in one of my games:

The party is fighting ghouls at a tunnel entrance. The last ghoul looses initiative but survives. On its turn, it paralyses a party member. The next round the ghoul wins initiative and drags the helpless character into the tunnel to kill them. The players object and I relent: it drags the paralyzed character into the tunnel and whoever wants to follow the ghoul and attack can do so. (More about the ensuing discussion on G+.)

What exactly happens when I say “the players objevted?” The way I run my game is I often suggest a plan of action and some of my players like to then think of ways to prevent it. I start by saying what happens: “OK, so ghoul hits and you roll a save vs. paralysis.” Some dice are rolled and then I provide a suggested course of action: “OK, so the ghoul is going to drag the unconscious Ishirou into the tunnel.” And since ghouls killed a character in those very same tunnels last session, the players all know what’s coming and they’re groaning and interjecting: “Hey, it can’t drag a corpse!” or “But it can’t kill Ishirou!”. I make my argument or propose an alternative to resolving this: “Sure, he’s helpless. But OK, let’s say that retreating and dragging a body prevents it from attacking, sounds fair?” So what happens is a short negotiation. When I say “the players object and I relent” then this is what is happening at the table: I propose how this is going to fall out and there’s a little moment of silence where players can interject or propose a different ruling until we’re all as happy as can be, and play proceeds.

How did it turn out? The players follow the ghoul into the tunnel and since the ghoul wasn’t fleeing but making a retreat, they can all reach it and attack, but they all miss. Then we roll initiative again. The ghoul wins and the players object again and we agree to make a morale check (9) but the ghoul makes it and therefore decides to not flee. Instead of retreating any further, it kills the helpless character for a little snack. The rest of the party then hacks the ghoul to pieces in a bloody fury.

Should the ghoul have fled? The cavern it had retreated into was a dead end and the players controlled the exit. Sadly, I forgot to have the ghoul talk. It was a murderous killer ghoul and those are boring compared to murderous smooth-talking ghouls.

But really I think the question boils down to this: here we have a monster that eats characters. If it only ever eats characters once they’re all dead, then the character eating part isn’t all that scary. In this situation I think I favor a monster that does the thing that’s less smart and more scary.

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2017-04-25 Equipment List

I like my equipment list small. For every item I ask: how is it’s presence or absence going to change the game? The point being that the list should be short and suggestive of the setting. Anything else just costs 1gp and needs no suggesting.

That’s why I like the Moldvay list: the things I remember all have a specific use.

  • mirror vs. medusas and basilisks
  • wolfbane vs. werewolves
  • silver dagger vs. werewolves
  • garlic vs. vampires
  • stakes vs. vampires

Similar ideas:

  • salt vs. ooze and snails
  • goat, for sacrifice
  • bird vs. gas trap
  • marbles or caltrops vs. pursuit
  • thread vs. labyrinth

More such useful items would have to go hand in hand with new monsters, I think. The thought process would be: the monster we care about is goblins. What would “help” against goblins? Do they flee from dogs, unconditionally? What would help against manticores? Do they hate the sound of trumpets? What would help against shadows? Would a room full of candles eliminate all shadows and thus prevent them from emerging?

Arnold started it all by collecting stuff for his equipment list on G+. Comment there, if you have additions. I wrote a post about how I would expand on the equipment list, also on G+. Comment there if you want to talk about the criteria to include or exclude items. Or leave your comment here, on the blog. :)

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2017-04-21 Armor Pieces

A long time ago, I ran an M20 game in fantasy Japan. The weapon rules are available in English. The armor rules are available in German. This blog post is supposed to fix this.

Shields

Shields are hardly ever used. But you can use a tessen to defend yourself for AC +1 if you don’t attack this round.

Medium or Heavy Armour

If you care about how heavily armoured an opponent is, use the following:

Type AC
light armour AC +1 to +2
medium armour AC +3 to +4
heavy armour AC +5 and up

Simple Armor

Ashigaru are common soldiers and militia men. Their armour provides AC +3 and costs 25 gp.

Shinobi are assassins and spies. Their light armour allows them to move silently and hide in shadows. It provides AC +2 and costs 15 gp.

Armour

Warriors use various pieces of armour. Japanese armour consists of various pieces. Having a full set is rare. Armour is usually kept in a wooden box.

Armour AC Price
Dō (chest) +2 20
Kote (sleeves and gauntlets) +1 20
Suneate (shin guards) +1 20
Kusazuri (thigh, requires dō) and haidate (upper legs) +1 20
Sode (shoulder, requires dō) +1 20
Nodowa (throat and neck, requires sode) +1 20
Wakibiki (armpit, requires sode) +1 20
Kabuto (helmet) +1 20
Mempo (face mask, requires kabuto) +1 20

A full set grants AC +10 and costs 180 gp.

Low AC Games

If you prefer low AC games, and you use a Death & Dismemberment table, I have a solution for you.

Armour Effect
Dō (chest) AC +2
Kote (sleeves and gauntlets) arms cannot be cut off
Suneate (shin guards) legs cannot be cut off
Kusazuri (thigh, requires dō) and haidate (upper legs) AC +1
Sode (shoulder, requires dō) AC +1
Nodowa (throat and neck, requires sode) head cannot be cut off
Wakibiki (armpit, requires sode) AC +1
Kabuto (helmet) no fainting
Mempo (face mask, requires kabuto) no loss of eyes or teeth

The best armour now provides just AC +5. Remember: no shields! But you’re still hard to kill because you are now immune to many injuries.

Best case, using the table from Halberds and Helmets:

2d6
2 decapitation /avoided/
3 fatal wound 💀
4 severed limb /avoided/
5 broken bone
6 ⅔ of painful losses /avoided/ (nose, eye, ear, teeth)
7–8 knock out /avoided/, just stunned
9 stun avoided, just knocked down
10 knocked down
11 no effect
12 adrenaline surge

Discussion on G+.

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2017-04-07 Worldbuilding

I really hate useless history in setting material. That’s information that players will never discover unless it is read to them in a boring monologue. Then again, I just listened to a podcast where somebody says that the warehouses now filled with artists and lofts are there because traditional shipping and warehousing was replaced by containers. I imagined an Orientalist bazaar in the carcass of a fallen civilisation and thought, this is D&D!

But how to create this? I need a handful of layers. Each historic layer is identifiable by architecture, providing early warning signs to players, as well as signalling the kinds of traps and treasures to be found. Over it all a sequence of immigrations from the top to the bottom, letting players interact with contemporary dangers as well as older, established powers. Say, four layers, four immigration waves. Perhaps the orcs did not reach the deepest levels, perhaps there are no astral gates and their Grell invaders at the surface, so we won’t have to think about all combinations, but there will be enough variation nonetheless.

Maybe take a sheet of paper, draw four interlinked circles for the historic layers, and on top of that, another four interlinked circles for the immigrations. Then draw a point crawl on top of that and let all the locations be influenced by the circles they are in – one or two historic layers for architecture, traps, treasure, items, and one or two immigrations for current denizens.

Instant lore and theme for your megadungeon or wilderness?

I guess you could say I want to create an underworld that feels like it might have been the result of How to Host a Dungeon without actually playing the game.

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2017-03-10 Google Plus RPG

For the last few years Google+ has been my platform of choice for conversation about role-playing games. But over the recent months I’ve seen a lot of people unhappy with redesign choices made by the G+ team. I don’t know whether this is just people resisting change or whether G+ is in fact going downhill, but I still enjoy the conversation.

One big element for Google+ usage is finding new people to circle. Sadly, circle sharing is no longer supported. Luckily, Claytonian JP made huge list. Sadly, I didn’t make it onto the list. Oh well, can’t be on all the lists. But then I though to myself, I should make my own list. So here goes.

This list includes people that also post about other stuff, but either they use collections (yay!) or because it seemed related enough (video games, movies).

This list does not include people that only post in communities, because circling them will not help you: you need to follow the communities instead. I also skipped people that haven’t posted in a long time with a few rare exceptions.

+John Harper +Oliver Palmer +Charlie Mason +Peter Ceee +Rafael Chandler +Brett Slocum +Logan Knight +Brendan S +Joel Priddy +Jason Lutes +Benjamin Eisenhofer +kirin robinson +Adam Dray +Olav Nygård +Svebor Midzic +Robert Fisher +Jürgen Mayer +Alex Chalk +Ian Wyckoff +Emily Dresner Thornber +Mateo Diaz Torres +Roger GS +Dungeon Contest +A. Miles Davis +Gus L +Arnold K +Martijn Vos +Stasis Engine +Michael Prescott +Reece Carter +Victor Raymond +ktrey parker +Jeff Call +Tim Hartin +Derek Badman

… Ugh, running out of time! I’ll have to finish this list another day.

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2017-03-04 Monster List

Remember the monster manual I’ve been working on? The current status is not so bad:

Ape, GiantBasiliskBearBee, GiantBeetle, Giant BoarBugbearCat, LargeCentaurCentipede, GiantChimeraCrab, GiantCreeperCrocodileDoppelgängerDragonDwarf (NPC)ElephantElf (NPC)EttinGargoyleGhoulGiantGnollGnomeGoblinGolemGorgonGryphonHalfling (NPC)HarpyHellhoundHobgoblinHorseHumanHydraIfritInvisible StalkerJinniLamprey, Giant PsychicLizard, GiantLizard, PeopleLycanthropeManticoreMaridMedusaMinotaurMummyWeasel, GiantWorm, Giant

Basically it’s good enough for me to take the booklet and use it at the table. I’ve already noticed a few things.

  1. The ghoul fear attack is weird and doesn’t work as intended. As I was using ghouls in a recent encounter, they just jumped the party and fought in melee.
  2. I need hags and shamans and other magic users with a bunch of interesting spells as monsters.
  3. While writing the book I’ve started to wonder whether I should just move away from the tricky calculation of monster XP back to the very old 100XP/HD. Sure, suddenly we’re back to gaining levels by killing 20 orcs. But is that such a problem? I don’t think so. Determining what counts as a special ability and what does not is boring.

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2017-02-20 Turning Undead

My games no longer have any clerics in them. But back when I had them, they turned undead. How exactly, asked Brett Eliot on Google+.

I ruled that LOS is important. I imagine the holy symbol shining some sort of holy light which hurts the undead. It’s that light which disintegrates them, too. Thus, distance is not a problem, in theory. But the undead can always take cover and so it depends. In a flat desert the army of undead will appear over the horizon and immediately freeze when they see the lone cleric, miles away, turning them. And slowly, in the milky twilight his holy light one zombie after another starts to melt, disintegrate. Do they rush forward, hoping to reach the cleric before all being destroyed, or do they build man shields to protect them, or do they take cover and wait for another day? Clearly, that explains why the undead prefer to exist underground. Less exposure to random holy photons. :)

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2017-02-20 Dungeon Mapping

Noisms recently wrote Elementary Principles of Dungeon Drawing and his first point is this: “Snazzy weird shapes and arrangements of rooms look good on paper but in my experience are really hard to explain at the table without ending up with the DM doing lots of drawing, which defeats the purpose of having players do the mapping.”

The longer I run Castle of the Mad Archmage, the more I agree with this assessment.

If I can’t communicate it at the table in a reasonable amount of time, it’s a waste of time.

Check out levels 3 to 5 of Castle of Mad Archmage for an example of what I’m talking about. This is the absolute limit of what I’m willing to communicate to my players.

I get questions by the mapper because they want to get it right and everybody just zones out after “The one in the north western face heads westerly…” it’s not a question of difficulty in describing it. It’s a question of time taken to describe it before the game breaks down.

One could argue about verisimilitude, or how the referee should be drawing maps, or I could just simplify all the maps. After all, it’s a game for all of us to enjoy at the table.

Generally speaking though, I’ve found myself drifting towards node-based dungeon maps. The question of mapping now has a simple answer: draw a beautiful map to represent the nodes and entertain the referee. That’s it.

Back in 2010 I wrote about quality dungeons. Here are some of the points I made regarding the map:

  • Good looking maps. A good looking map appeals to the referee and says “Pick me! Pick me!” Hard to say what this is: an interesting density?
  • Notes on the map itself make it easier to get an overview of the place.
  • Multiple entrances for players to choose from.
  • Multiple exits for referees to append to.
  • A map that suggests multiple goals. Rescue prisoner here, kill boss there, find hidden treasure over there. That adds replayability. That is, the map must have visually distinct areas: prison cells, water ways, treasure chests, large caves, small caves, throne rooms.)
  • A map key that is easy to skim by using bold keywords for monsters and other stuff of prime importance to players.
  • A setup that can be exploited in combat by tactically minded players. A bottleneck, a ledge, a bridge, a fortified position, a sally port.
  • An opportunity to spy on enemies for the stealthily minded players. A murder hole, a grate, a tiny tunnel, a scrying ball.

Recent examples from my own games trying to strike a balance between these points and my free time:

Crown of Neptune Garaskis Monastery Cloud Giants vs. Djinn

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Comments on 2017-02-20 Dungeon Mapping

You have a ZERO WIDTH NO-BREAK SPACE on the end of the “quality dungeons” link that makes it point to a missing page (that the Wiki offers to create for you).

– Derek 2017-02-23 05:22 UTC


Thanks! This is not the first time it happened. I’m not sure who appends these – I suspect it’s something about the G+ app on my phone.

– AlexSchroeder 2017-02-23 05:45 UTC


cecil howe writes a long argument about maps as art, maps as a tool to get you excited and into the groove, and how flowchart and pointcrawls might put you into the mind set of meetings, accounting and maybe taxes, more or less. It’s long, but I think he’s right.

– AlexSchroeder 2017-04-25 22:17 UTC

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2017-01-25 RPG Blogs

Does anybody know how to get an OPML feed from Feedly? How would you share blog subscriptions without OPML? What I did was get the blog titles and wrap it in Google search because I was tired after looking up the correct URLs after the first one. Not ideal at all!

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2017-01-23 Random Encounters

Gavin was wondering about random encounters on Google+. He was wondering about probabilities and said he had noticed that “wandering monsters virtually never come up.”

Yeah, wandering monsters are rare. But they do happen once or twice a session. The effect they have depends on the setup, however. If your players are pressed for time and after two or three hours they need to leave, and thus the dungeon exploration ends, then additional random encounters don’t do much, I think. They sometimes surprise the referee and add some color, that is all. That’s how I run it. I just roll the dice when I’m bored as a minor tax on players taking too long to make decisions or listening and checking for traps all the time.

If you add a severe penalty, as in rolling on a terrible table of tearful results if the party doesn’t make it out in time, then the exciting bit is rolling for random encounters on the way out and hoping for no delays. That’s how I want to run it, but I never rolled on that ominous table and thus perhaps players don’t actually fear it.

If, on the other hand, players stay for as long as they want but they can’t heal or memorize new spells in the dungeon, then the dynamics might change: they try to maximize their stay, pushing resources to the limit, and now avoiding combat with random encounters is even more important. Perhaps that’s how Gary ran his table?

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Comments on 2017-01-23 Random Encounters

Is the term “random encounters” a little misleading? “Rational encounters” maybe? ;-) Just because it is to be expected to run into someone who is going somewhere else from time to time, be it in the wilderness or in the dungeon or in a castle. A total static dungeon makes even less sense than it does make anyway; apart from an empty tomb, maybe. Just a random thought.

Rorschachhamster 2017-01-24 10:30 UTC


Well, we’re using established jargon, here. Random encounters or wandering monsters is what it is. Just a wandering conjecture… ? :-D

– Alex Schroeder 2017-01-24 12:10 UTC

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