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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2018-01-14 Counterspells

Declaring the intent to counterspell or delaying actions makes me uneasy: another round lost, more time lost at the table. I think for spell duels what we need is a kind of bullet time where all the spells go off at the same time, all of them cancelling each other as far as possible.

Thus, the basic rule is this: if you haven’t acted this round and a spell it being cast at you, you can use your action to react with any spell in your repertoire, aiming to counterspell. The side with initiative declares first.

Consequently, if you have already cast a spell this round and none of your opponents decided to counterspell, then they cannot cast a spell at you this round because your spells would have cancelled as far as possible. If you didn’t cast a spell, or if they are attacking you with other means, no problem.

Effectively, all the spell casting happens in the same moment.

Examples:

When somebody casts magic missile at you and you haven’t acted yet, cast shield to defend yourself. This is a perfect counterspell.

When somebody casts fireball at you and you haven’t acted yet, cast lightning bolt to defend yourself. Both sides roll damage and only the difference gets applied to the loser. This works even when there are multiple people attacking each other. The winner gets to decide how effects are distributed amongst multiple losers.

In this case we’re assuming that all damage dealing spells are somewhat alike. Over time you’ll build a collection of rulings as to which effects can cancel each other like that.

Whenever spell effects cannot be compared directly, the simplest solution would be to have both sides roll their saving throws, if any. When both make their saves, nothing happens. When only one side fails their save, they are affected by the other’s spell. If both sides fail their saving throws, the spell of the higher circle wins: hold person (2nd circle) beats charm person (1st circle) if both sides fail their saving throws.

Similarly, if one side casts hold person and the other side casts fireball, both need to roll a save — one to avoid being held, the other for half damage. If both casters fail their saves, fireball (3rd circle) beats hold person (2nd circle).

And finally, if one side casts sleep and their victim can be affected, the other side is simply considered to have already failed their save.

This also means that it can be disadvantageous to attack with weaker spells because the counterspell might simply cancel whatever you threw at your opponent and thus you effectively gave away the initiative.

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2018-01-13 No Google Plus

A while ago I discovered Mastodon and loved it. I didn’t worry too much about being tracked. Everything and everybody was new. Posts were shorter. And I basically switched. I’m no longer a big Google+ poster.

I had joined Google+ because of all the other RPG people. The Old School Renaissance (OSR) folks had all collectively moved their talking from blogs to Google+, I felt. But in recent months I have often felt that many posts on Google+ were about politics, and they were getting me down. The orange pumpkin US president also didn’t help (Trump, in case I come back to this blog post many years later and have forgotten who it was). I wanted to read about politics but it was getting me down. I wanted to read about role-laying games but that was getting me down, too!

It’s hard to explain. Some posts were too long. Huge! Others were just linkspam, sometimes nothing but a link, or sometimes a very short sentence or two, plus a link, sometimes posted in multiple Google Communities. Even though that didn’t affect me much, it still made me a little angry. It’s stupid, I know.

Mastodon has a 500 character limit and no markup. Those limitations are stupid, too. But strangely, I feel more comfortable in this environment. And I noticed something else: I am quite comfortable posting about code and programming, something I had mostly kept out of my Google+.

Perhaps that’s because the RPG instance I am on, dice.camp, isn’t too interesting as far as the OSR goes. And so I did not post too much over there.

I thought the change would be hard. But it turns out it isn’t.

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2017-12-22 What I like about the Old School

I was talking with ghost bird on Mastodon about the OSR, trying to describe what I like about it.

I like the spirit of doing it yourself. Making your own house rules. The sheer uncontrolled mass that is Links to Wisdom makes me happy. Over a thousand links!

I like the part that is not related to products. I liked the part about Fight On! and the One Page Dungeon Contest that showed me other people doing similar stuff without shiny gloss and fancy art. Thus, where as I have bought some products, I would not recommend anything in particular. I loved the blogs and G+ about the OSR.

Remember the discussion about Innovation and the Old School Renaissance?

I’ve always thought of it as Old School Renaissance. The kind of rebirth that takes old statues and old manuscripts and makes new and awesome things with it. The Renaissance in Europe wasn’t about rebuilding Ancient Rome and Ancient Greece, after all. It was about taking some found material and making new stuff.

As I am remembering how I ended up in the OSR, I remember getting into the blogosphere. I started my blog in 2002, rediscovered D&D in 2006, gave old school D&D a first try in 2008. And I discovered more and more blogs talking about classic D&D, what it could have been, how you could transmute it into something new and awesome.

There was the Planet Algog blog, for exampe. The session reports sounded so fantastic, this is what I wanted my games to be like. Start here: Chapter 3, Part 1: "The Seeds of Heroism..." (multi-part), Chapter 4, Part 1: "The Importance of Attentiveness..." (multi-part), etc.

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2017-12-14 Casters

OK, I have a new project! Remember how I wrote and illustrated the monster section for my Halberds & Helmets Ref Guide? Well, I decided I also needed a list of spell casters including their spell books in order to provide for an interesting selection of magic user and elf mentors, patrons, matrons, quest givers and foes. So here we are!

My challenge: to write up the spell books of two dozen casters, all with more or less unique spells. My “D&D as oral tradition” challenge is to simply not look up any spells and see what feels right. Remember the blog post about Rulings?

“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 think this might also apply to spells. I’m going to refer to the spells I wrote for my monsters, though. I really want to make this more cohesive. Casters learned their spells from these monsters!

Hopefully the spells and these monster references will help me describe the casters in a way that already suggests what their towers look like. A paragraph or two about their lair would be great. Belchion has already provided me with a magic item for most of them. This is going well.

You can find the casters I have on the Spellcasters page of the Halberds & Helmets wiki. I created all the pages with faces from my face generator but only the casters from Agrimach to Gerdana have spells right now.

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2017-11-30 Entourage

I run my game using traditional retainer rules and I tell players that all retainers within their limit (4+CHA bonus) are 100% loyal, but any surplus hands hired will have to roll morale check like monsters do. War dogs, horses, raptors, war bears, any sort of mount or pet you want to be 100% loyal also counts against this limit. This rule has worked ok for me. But nothing special ever happened. Some people like a lot of retainers, some don’t. We have a lot of players, so we often have up to 20 characters in the party, everybody 100% loyal. On rare occasions (once or twice a year?) there are sessions with mass combat and dozens of mercenaries hired, so morale rules practically never affect “ordinary” adventures. I’m not sure if, given the choice, players would not rather have fewer retainers instead of unloyal ones. And if retainers have characteristics that affect other retainers, I feel like I’m playing two characters interacting instead of giving players agency. So, long story short, I’m no longer tinkering with this. :)

This was inspired by David Bowman’s Entourage Approach.

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2017-11-29 What to do with Mastodon

On Dice Camp, Meguey Baker asked:

A follow up question: what are we doing now that we’re here? Let us gather for a purpose beyond “talk about stuff and things!” What gives us meaning, individually and collectively? There is a massive massive massive flood of “content” in the world; we are super saturated with it. Lots of us make it. Im not saying anyone stop, I’m saying what could we make together if we had a plan?

I think instances which are small and focused on a project could exist for a distributed team. But that sounds a lot like work. But that’s one thing that people could do: work.

I know a thing I don’t want to do: promoting, and reading promotions. I am saturated with content, and products.

But there are models for the things in between: book reading clubs (not buying books); social clubs (talking about thing but aiming at an improvement of self and society along some axis).

Personally, I’m mostly interested in what differentiates a salon in Paris a few decades ago from a public space. Curation of members, curation of topics, invitation of guests, these are the obvious outer limits. But there must have been expectation management as well. What did members hope to gain through their membership? Entertainment? Advancement? How much bowing was expected? How much free labor? I understand so little about this.

Also related: Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge. Could this be a Society for Improving the Art of Role-Playing Games? All games? Pushing envelopes? Feedback sessions? Criticism? I don’t want to deny the negative aspects of all these ideas (thinking of criticism and self-criticism in communist countries), but these limitations will need buy-in from a starting pool of people.

One thing that I have always enjoyed on G+ and blogs was posts that succinctly summarized an event, mostly during a session, or the setup of a one-shot, and discussed how they handled or solved it. This also extends to comments on other people’s activities (i.e. back to criticism). In the office, I’d talk about describing best practices and building a community of practice, but essentially, I think it needs some sort of scaffolding and we might as well call it a salon.

Thinking more about building a “community of practice”. What would that entail? I’d expect one consequence to be that we talk more about the things we do rather than about the things we make. So, while we are running games, playing games, designing games, writing games, we notice things and talk about them, instead of advertising the finished products we made. It’s less about the things we make but about the making of these things. (He says, trying to sound smart, haha.)

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2017-11-23 Thor

I recently saw the third Thor movie (Ragnarok, 2017), and then I decided to get the first (2011) and second (The Dark World, 2013) movies as well and watched them over the weekend. I liked the third one the best. It took all the elements I liked about the first two and skipped the boring parts.

I never thought I would like superhero movies since I’ve spent my youth with Franco-Belgian comics, Lucky Luke, Asterix, the Adventures of Tintin. But when I saw the visuals of Jupiter Ascending (the story was weak but the space ships were fantastic), and then Guardians of the Galaxy and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, I discovered that I liked this baroque style. (Wikipedia: “exaggerated motion and clear, easily interpreted detail to produce drama, tension, exuberance, and grandeur”)

This is what my high level D&D campaign should be about! And I feel vindicated for using Norse mythology as the cosmology for my campaigns. In the Halberds and Helmets Referee Guide, there are three pages on Gods and Demons, talking about it.

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2017-11-20 Twenty and One Questions

Back in 2014, I answered Jeff Rients’ 20 questions. (I had forgotten that I had already answered them in 2012.) Here are my answers to Jez Gordon’s 21 questions.

Why were settlements founded here? Along the river systems, connecting some rich region in the west with some other region in the north.

What are the local funeral customs? People are buried except for elves. Elves are burned because a special elf fungus will grow out of their dead corpses, giving off a strange light, make otherworldly music when the moon shines, possess animals and drive people mad. Unburied dead will usually give rise to ghosts who try to possess or curse people nearby. At first, they’ll try to get a decent burial. Later, however, they’ll try to actively hurt and kill.

How do neighbouring settlements communicate with one another? There is trade along the river and on roads financed by player characters.

How dramatically does your campaign location change from season to season? Not at all. I have trouble remembering snow in winter.

What are the three biggest local celebrations each year? Haven’t thought about it.

Where is the safest place for someone to stash a considerable sum of coins and treasure? Generally speaking, in town is “safe”.

What is the local standard of medical technology in replacing missing bits and body pieces? The streets are full of victims of the Death & Dismemberment table. People have lost countless arms and legs to the dungeons. If you lost a leg, you can have a wooden peg and suffer no other penalty but the inability to run and to move silently. If you lost an arm, you can have a hook and suffer no other penalty but the inability to wield a shield. Captain Hook is my role model.

What are some local superstitions? No idea.

What is the scariest local myth? No idea.

Who collects tribute and taxes for the powers that be? No idea. Taxes are not important in my game.

What are the best places to get a drink round here? No idea. A handful of establishments are mentioned on the campaign wiki page for the local settlement but drinking and carousing is not important in my game.

Where can you buy animals round here? The humans sell war dogs for 25gp. The dwarves train bears to be war bears. The bears they get from a druid who stopped delivering them. We haven’t investigated. The bears used to cost 500gp. The lizard men used to train war raptors. We got some as a gift and they’re still breeding. They are no longer available because we killed all the lizard men when their relations with the dwarves took a dive.

What is the local settlement missing? No idea.

What is the local mascot of the town or region? No idea.

Where’s the best place to pick up a few hired hands? The town provides an endless supply of surplus kids, desperate to make some money. Also, amateur spies are available for 200gp per job.

What’s the local take on the end of the world? No idea.

Is there a local hedge wizard, witch, or shaman of no great power but one who cares for the locals and helps deal with their tribulations? No. Sascha is the local big priest, a former player character. The temple of the local elementalist schools is perhaps the most useless with magic-users around level two and three.

What games do the locals like to play? No idea.

What crimes are punishable by death? Bandits are hanged by the Lady Kyle, the local noble woman. Recently the players saw that a bunch of dwarves was able to buy their freedom even though all the human bandits would hang. Food for thought.

Have any great disasters destroyed local settlements? Laketown was destroyed by froglings in recent years. The survivors fled, or were captured by the froglines to serve them in their swamp temple. As no other settlement was built near the swamp or lake, nobody else fears them.

Where can you find maps of the region? The campaign wiki has the in-game knowledge of the area. I keep adding to the map as the players explore.

That’s a lot of “no idea”... Tags:

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2017-09-07 Politics and Entertainment

Recently, Scott Anderson wrote on G+ that Wizards of the Coast were “so stupid about injecting their own real-world politics into their games.” I wonder, is this a new thing? Or is this complaint new?

I think this has been true, always. Politics has always found a way into books and games. Maybe some issues don’t seem political to us now, but they are about what people feel they ought to be doing, they wished to be doing, be it performing masculinity, feminism, taming frontiers, spreading freedom (the freedom that is different from the freedom on the other side of the iron curtain), a message of rugged individualism, of caring and sharing, of power, of war, of misery, all the messages are political because humans are political animals.

And why man is a political animal in a greater measure than any bee or any gregarious animal is clear. For nature, as we declare, does nothing without purpose; and man alone of the animals possesses speech. The mere voice, it is true, can indicate pain and pleasure, and therefore is possessed by the other animals as well (for their nature has been developed so far as to have sensations of what is painful and pleasant and to indicate those sensations to one another), but speech is designed to indicate the advantageous and the harmful, and therefore also the right and the wrong; for it is the special property of man in distinction from the other animals that he alone has perception of good and bad and right and wrong and the other moral qualities, and it is partnership in these things that makes a household and a city-state.

Aristot. Pol. 1.1253a

And all the books and all the stories have alienated some part of the population but they didn’t speak up because they didn’t share the ideas that were coming, the mainstream, and not every underdog makes it big. Perhaps they did speak up, hated on The Lord of the Rings, on Star Wars, on Star Trek, on War and Peace, on Plato, on Goethe, but their point of view did not prevail. And now we look back and think the old days had less politics and I think we are wrong.

That is why the complaint seems new: previous complaints didn’t make across the gulf of time and space. Sure, people objected to Henry Miller’s books, some of them were banned, even. And yet these days we don’t blink and it’s OK. These complaints are old. At the same time, some complaints are new because the issues we complain about today were simply too far fetched in the past. Back when The Lord of the Rings was written, the people who had anything to say didn’t complain about a lack of representation. These days, however, our attitudes have changed.

I’d like to go further than just claiming that the complaints have always been there, or that the things we complain about just keep changing. I believe that a book or a game that teaches us nothing about the human condition, speaks not of feelings, makes no judgements, such a thing is as shallow and flaccid as pop songs about love. Everybody understands them and nothing else needs to be said. In fact, anything that goes beyond the simple feeling is already political. You might think that we can talk about more than love and be unpolitical but faithfulness, polyamory, homosexuality, marriage, equal pay, equal say, everything is political and if you think it is not then that’s because you think the issues are so obvious it isn’t a contest. But it is. Somewhere, it is. When we think it’s unpolitical we are simply in such an agreement we don’t even notice.

The division we experience these days is simply the division that has always been there but we didn’t talk about it. One side was without a voice, but just as the spread of new media caused war and strife in past, so does social media serve politics now. The printing press allowed the church schism to spin out of control and lead to the thirty years war and more. Radio and TV was used for propaganda on a populace that did not have the media savviness to ignore it. The Internet is used to drown us because we have yet to find a way to filter it appropriately.

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In an answer to further comments I wrote: I always found the argument very convincing that unless you are in a minority, you just don’t see it. So when we don’t see it, some will feel excluded. When they feel included, we feel it’s political. But since I don’t belong to any obvious minorities (perpetual foreigner, maybe?) I can’t provide examples from my own life. I do remember reading the account of a black girl liking science fiction and her parents asking her why she liked it because that was for whites (don’t remember the details). Until then I had simply never thought about it. And I can always spot the American ads here in Switzerland: so many people of color! So all I can say is that I’m noticing the politics more these days, but it seems to me more like an eye opening, not a politicization.

– Alex 2017-09-07 20:59 UTC

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2017-09-05 Monster Manual Finished

I can’t believe it. I feel like singing it from mountain tops. My project is done!

  • Halberds & Helmets Ref Guide, where monsters are a large part of the book
  • they are also on a wiki, but I didn’t always update the wiki pages once I had entries in the Ref Guide
  • discussions on Google+, which are great for all the ideas that didn’t make it into the book

A year ago I started with an annotated monster list, based on the Labyrinth Lord monster list. I basically wanted to highlight the monsters I like to use. I was encouraged by the long comment Brian left on that blog post. Thanks!

At the same time, I had bought an iPad Pro and an Apple Pencil and I was enjoying the Zen Brush 2 app, and I needed a project that would keep me drawing stuff, for practice. And I drew a lot of monsters. Check out the monster gallery. The humans, dwarves, elves and halflings are from my face generator. The rest was all drawn on the iPad.

The year before, James V West had posted the BX 64 challenge on Google+: “to create a 64 page saddle stitched book that fits with BX. A setting, for example.” I had plans for a setting. I wanted to write about the Planescape/Spelljammer campaign I had been running for a while. I started posting in the B/X Campaign Challenge Google+ Community. But the campaign changed. It was hard to remove the proprietary bits from the campaign setting and just leave the original stuff. I just felt tired whenever I thought of it.

But when I took the Swiss Referee Style Manual, added a bit about mass combat, added a bit about the cosmology I am using, and all the monsters, with their illustrations, I had something going. And as I posted about the monsters I was drawing on Google+ and had interesting discussions with other people, I was back in the groove. Thank you all.

The one person I remember most fondly for his long comments and insightful responses was Ian Borchardt. He is definitely not one for the TL;DR crowd. Thanks, Ian! Your replies kept me going!

And then there was Jennifer Hartogensis who I think I first saw in the King Arthur Pendragon Google+ Community with her Dutch session reports. Some of her comments will be hard to forget. Centaurs, unicorn names, with a sentence or two she always put the finger right where it hurt. I laughed!

I also want to thank those faithful followers of my Drawing Google+ Collection where they +1’d my sketches and pictures, encouraging me to keep at it, Christian Sturke, Tina Trillitzsch, Jensan Thuresson, Harald Wagener, Steve Sigety.

And there are more. The right comment at the right time by Aaron McLin. I just can’t remember you all. Thank you all, for keeping me going.

I know how hard it is to stay motivated because of the Free Software I write. I usually write it for myself, but when a random stranger sends me an email telling me they are using it, I love it. And I loved every single encouraging remark, every little +1, every discussion and every new angle.

So, what's next? I don’t feel like planning for a next project. As far as I am concerned, nothing comes next. Just play more games, run more games, and if new stuff comes up, maybe put it in a new document, who knows.

I sometimes feel like going back and fixing some of the drawings I no longer like. I think I got better over time, so I’m hoping that I might redo some things. I also know how these images look on the PDF pages, now. It just doesn’t look very good if the waves of the sea serpent are cut off, or the manticore wings, or if the shark background or the spectre background is totally black. I feel like these things need fixing.

I also started using these monsters in my games and sometimes I think they need fixing. The ghouls in my games didn’t run like I felt they should. Their aura of fear never gets used. Their paralysis is still coupled to the third attack. Something is wrong. But what is it? Some of these monsters need more playtesting, I guess. One would think that the established monsters need practically no playtesting, but I guess if you want to make them better, then you better playtest them all.

Perhaps I should go through the list of treasures again and add treasure types? I think at the beginning I was thinking more about the changes I wanted to see. Only ancient civilisations would have electrum or platinum pieces. Stuff like that. But towards the end of the book, I practically stuck to the Labyrinth Lord book. I’d like to have treasure types, with a treasure justification: “this is the hoard of a creature that attacks towns, or of creature that trades with towns”, “this is the hoard of a creature that kills lone adventurers and grave robbers”, “this is the hoard you’d find in a mausoleum”.

Oh, and I think I’d also like to write new lists of magic items.

I also worry about the file size. 50MB, really?

Frogling

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WOW! What a creative endeavor you’ve undertaken. I just downloaded it and was scrolling thru the Monsters section. I must say that the B&W line/brush art style is wonderful. It gives the art a simple elegance. I’ll be reading up on this RPG over the weekend. THANK YOU for making this.

marshomeworld 2017-09-06 03:22 UTC


👍🏾

– Alex 2017-09-06 05:19 UTC


I’m also looking forward to this monster manual by Sean McCoy.

– Alex 2017-09-08 09:54 UTC


٩(

– Chris 2017-09-21 18:27 UTC

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