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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2018-05-28 What makes an OSR Game

Beautiful summary of what it means for a game to “be OSR”, i.e. to be part of the Old School Renaissance, found on a blog:

One of the most persistent myths about the old-school style is that it’s a numbers-first, tactical combat based, hack-and-slash style of gameplay. It’s not. The game is lethal, and if you wish to avoid the many varieties of grisly demise on offer, you need to think creatively, avoiding and subverting combat scenarios rather than engaging in them. […]

So, then, […] why do OSR systems have so many combat rules? As opposed to, say, rules for feeling things, or exploration? If the game is about things other than combat, why isn’t that reflected in its ruleset? […] because the way OSR play engages with the rules is fundamentally different from most other schools of RPG design. Your character sheet is a list of the few limitations imposed on you, not a list of your awesome powers and skill trees. […] OSR play is what’s not written - what’s written is there to ground the situation and make things difficult.

This is from the blog post Does An OSR Game Need Dedicated Combat Rules? from the recommended blog The Graverobber's Guide by D. G. Chapman.

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2018-05-11 Charming

How do you run charmed characters?

I find charms work best of combined with simple commands by the referee. I play it like Jedi mind tricks. “You will protect me with your life.” Or “You will fetch the black sword for me.” Combine this with a simple “you may roll a save if allies of the magic user attack you.” That also means it won’t work for long periods of time because reduced agency is obviously frustrating. But it’s still better than telling them to role play being friends with the bad guys. That only works if the players are into that kind of messing with their friends. Sometimes they are and then it’s hilarious.

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2018-04-28 The Pagoda of Pazuzu

OK, I think I’m going to submit another entry to the One Page Dungeon Contest.

It uses the Neris font. “A display sans for one paragraph (or shorter) length text: quotes, openings, titles, etc. Sure, you could use it for body copy and get away with it, but that’s not where the typeface shines.”

It still workes for this one page document, though. Neris Black for the title, Neris Light for the body.

Inspired by my visit to Miyajima and seeing the Five-Tiered Pagoda at Itsukushima, as well as visiting Sanjūsangen-dō and seeing the 1000 statues of of the 1000-armed Kannon.

The color scheme is the same powerful scheme I used with all the pictures I painted using Zen Brush 2. Black and white, and red for colour accents. Too bad this trio has been popular with all sorts of people I am not associated with, including some particularly evil dudes. Yikes!

Well, in this case the picture is based on a photograph I took in Miyajima and then I made a sketch on top of it using Procreate on the iPad. But I still want it to look like some sort of ink painting.

You’ll notice that once again, I’m falling far short of my own guidelines for quality dungeons. Why is that? I don’t really want to spend too many hours on a dungeon that is going to be used at the table in a 3h segment. Spending more than 1h for prep in this context is already wasting my time. So it can’t be pretty and I have to rely on people being able to draw their own inferences:

  • If Eron is a “rabble rouser” then maybe he’s not a nice person by can be manipulated into storming the pagoda?
  • If one of the scrolls the librarians want is the Psalm of the Fourth Silence owned by a certain Enron, then clearly there must be tensions between the two groups.
  • If the 1000 statues require you to say their name as you pass them by, clearly you must have convinced one of the Eron, one of the monks or one of the librarians to help you.
  • The image of the pagoda supposedly implies that you can fly up to the upper levels and bypass the lower levels. Hopefully the list of spells available to the seven librarians, two sword masters and the demon are enough inspiration for a referee to turn this into a different kind of challenge.

And why no map? Well, what is it for? I don’t have the time to make something nice for the referee since that’s me myself and I. If there is a map, do the measurements matter? If they don’t, can the map be represented by a flow diagram? And if the flow diagram is simple – if it is linear, or has very few nodes, or very few branches – then we can simply omit the map and write some text. That’s what I wanted to do here. The picture lets you know all there is to know: there are a bunch of rooms on top of each other. If you can’t climb or fly, it’s a linear dungeon. As most of my wilderness encounters involve small lairs – and by that I mean one to five rooms at most – I practically stopped making maps.

Anyway...

Please let me know if you ever use it in one of your campaigns.

Preview

Anybody wondering how I would rule +1/+3 vs children: I’d say almost all creatures are children of their parents. Except for the undead, demons, devils, slimes, golems, robots, clockwork bots, and the like.

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2018-04-28 Interviews

The following started as a solo thread on Mastodon...

One of these days I should write up some interview questions I would like to see asked of other people in the RPG world. These days, I find most interviews extremely boring. Why is that? Something about there being no challenges, very little personal reveals, and product shilling, of course. They read like ads in dialogue form, not like interesting interviews.

So here’s my stream of thought on interview questions: How is your favourite human doing? Do you play role-playing games together? What was the last thing you did together? What does game design give you? Why did you base your design on rules X (Fate, Powered by the Apocalypse, classic D&D) and why didn’t you just house rule a similar game? Why did you pick these artists? Where did you find them? How exactly does the back and forth between you work? I’d love to hear more about the financial arrangements. How do you balance friendship and marketing? How do you keep your social media accounts interesting and yet peddle your wares? How do you feel about copyright these days? Where do you find your sparring partners and inspiration? Where do you think your strengths are? What about your weakness and how do you compensate for it? Why go back to old designs? Does the Long Tail work for you financially? Does game design work for you, financially? If not, why ask for money in the first place?

I had to think of somebody while I wrote down these questions and so I thought of @halfjack who has been on my radar ever since I bought the diaspora hardcover from Lulu. He said: “I can’t remember the last interview I did. Happy to fix that with a new one though!” I sure hope he gets an interesting #interview!

Read his answers on Google+.

In the interest of fairness I think I should answer these myself, too.

How is your favourite human doing? My wife has recovered from breast cancer, mastectomy and chemo therapy and we’re back out there running and enjoying ourselves. Chemo also led to immediate menopause, which also takes some getting used to.

Do you play role-playing games together? Yes we do. I run three campaigns. One of them is with a friend and some kids, one is my English campaign, and another one is my German campaign. She plays in my German campaign. I remember trying to explain the concept of role-playing games to her all those years ago and she just thought it was nuts and hadn’t ever heard of it. I think the only time I myself had seen role-playing games in school was my own group when I was about 15 or 16 years old, and later I learned of another group which had also been playing for quite a while. That’s it. My wife thought that it was a distinctly German or US thing; there was simply none of it in Switzerland. I am not sure and I have no data. So all I know are German speaking Facebook groups and two yearly mini cons in the German speaking part Switzerland. They are both very small, maybe fifty people or less. My wife doesn’t go. When she does see some role-playing people we always talk about the awkward moments. Some of these people seem to have a very hard time, socially. They don’t fit in, they have a hard time reading a group of people, when to speak, what to say. I feel the question hanging in the air: these are your people? I guess they are. Most of them don’t sit at my table but based on what I see, we’re a very tolerant bunch of people.

What was the last thing you did together? We went running. I think we did nearly 7km and tomorrow we will do some more running. Last week I came back from a three week holiday to Japan with two friends and their families. My wife didn’t come because she still fears the after effects of Fukushima. She knows it’s irrational but that doesn’t make the fear go away. If the cancer comes back, she’ll be looking for reasons and she knows it. It doesn’t help that she had leukaemia as a kid shortly after Chernobyl. Genetic testing seems to indicate a genetic mutation of unknown clinical relevance in a gene related to fighting cancer. So... it’s hard to argue about these fears and I went alone. At the same time, she’s been pushing hard for a reduction in work hours and she was now able to reduce her work to an 80% job. This is great because now the two of us have Fridays off and already we’re feeling much better about a lot of things. That certainly takes the pressure off of work. Work is clearly relegated to making money, not to providing identity and meaning to our lives. I’ve been working part time for a long time. I’m happy to find that she’s finally able to do the same.

What does game design give you? Working on my game booklets first and foremost means writing down my house rules. Once they are written down, they have more standing power. It gives them an existence beyond our memories. In addition to that, I’ve found that working on the documents scratches my itch regarding all the other skills I don’t have: layout, typography, art. I don’t know much about these but I want to know more. Having a project or two or three really pushes me to learn more. In a these are ways to work with a computer without programming all the time, and so it’s “same same but different.” A new kind of thing I can do at the laptop.

Why did you base your design on rules X (Fate, Powered by the Apocalypse, classic D&D) and why didn’t you just house rule a similar game? I used Basic D&D from 1981 by Moldvay as the basis of my game. When I learned to play role-playing games, I started out with the first edition of Das Schwarze Auge, published around the same time. It was similar in complexity. When I returned to role-playing games in 2006, I got sucked in by the publication of Rules Cyclopedia and then I started reading the Kitsunemori campaign setting and so I was set on the path of D&D 3.5. For a few sessions we played M20 but soon one of the players clamoured for D&D 3.5 and I relented. Big mistake. Things got more and more complex and my campaigns flourished, and eventually we switched to Pathfinder and still it was good, but then I tried to go back and eventually it all fell apart. I had to start with a new group. I think my wife, Samuel and Stefan were the only ones to make the change with me. And so I arrived at Labyrinth Lord and B/X D&D. I tried Labyrinth Lord with my wife and it was good. My house rules started out as a little player handout for those that couldn’t be bothered with reading it all. And who needs spells up to level nine and class advancement until level twenty? My campaigns always seemed to be fun until we got to level ten or so. That’s why at first my house rules only went up to level five and now they go up to level ten. I don’t think more is required. And with that, level limits are also off the table. This is great.

Why did you pick these artists? I don’t seem to have the talent to speak to artists in a way that makes them want to collaborate with me. I don’t make any money with my stuff and thus I also don’t want to pay anybody. But if nobody is enthusiastic about collaborating, then I don’t want to ask them to work for free (or for “exposure,” haha). So I decided to try and work on my own skills. I illustrated my House Rules using public domain pictures of helmets (this made sense because I called it Halberds & Helmets), and I drew the monsters in my Referee Guide myself.

Where did you find them? I didn’t find any. :(

How exactly does the back and forth between you work? All I can say is how the back and forth between me and my players is: I’m trying to run my campaigns using Eero Tuovinen’s idea of D&D as oral history. If you remember the rule apply it. If you forget it, it was not important anyway. Thus, no need to consult the rule books. Rules change over time, depending on the interest of players. I try to keep it that way: if we don’t use some rules, I drop them from the document; if we run into a problem and make a ruling, I add it to the document.

I’d love to hear more about the financial arrangements. There are none. I’m a software developer by day and thus I don’t need the money and I really like the idea of DIY D&D. Do-it-yourself is great!

How do you balance friendship and marketing? I don’t do any significant marketing.

How do you keep your social media accounts interesting and yet peddle your wares? The only marketing effort I make is that I post the occasional links to work in progress or I link to blog posts when I’m involved in a discussion on the topic. That’s it. Thus, I think I keep my social media accounts very interesting and practically don’t peddle my wares. Then again, I don’t make any money off it. But then does that lead to a world where the people who ask for money have to work for it and thus swamp us with their messages and those who do work for free don’t post about and are relegated to obscurity? Oh well, perhaps that’s what it means. Money pushes us harder and I refuse to “work” for role-playing games. I have to be entertained by every single step I take.

How do you feel about copyright these days? Generally speaking I feel like it makes everything harder. Sharing is complicated. People rarely understand the licenses. Even if we do, they make everything harder. If I publish my house rules and don’t do any actual copying and pasting of the SRD, do I still need the OGL in my document? I hate this. All those well meaning people illustrating their blog posts using images they took off the net, all of them in violation of copyright. My current position is that copyright was appropriate for a world of a few publishers printing books but these days we are practically all involved in the process of copying, modifying and distributing works. The Book Free Culture talks about this a lot. The Creative Commons licenses were created to get around the need to ask for permission. No more asking for permission is key. So, generally speaking, I went from the OGL to Creative Commons to Public Domain dedications.

Where do you find your sparring partners and inspiration? I don’t, except for my players.

Where do you think your strengths are? I’m best at running games. I’m a good host. I can organise games. And as far as game design goes, I can think things through and I can write it up.

What about your weakness and how do you compensate for it? My weakness is that I’m not an artist and that I have a hard time doing new things. I compensate by practising my painting by consciously deciding to not design any new games. I just stick to old ideas that worked well over decades: classic D&D, classic Traveller, and so on.

Why go back to old designs? I think familiarity with the rules translates to people at the table being able to focus on other things. To take D&D as an example: everybody knows how to fight and thus people can focus on the important decisions of whether to fight at all.

Does the Long Tail work for you financially? I don’t sell anything so I have no idea whether anybody looks at my old stuff. I suspect nobody does. Do people still play M20? I don’t think so. Thus, nobody cares about M20 Hard Core, I’m sure.

Does game design work for you, financially? Not at all.

If not, why ask for money in the first place? I don’t.

Wow, that turned out to be a very long blog post!

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2018-04-10 Updates

Not much to say. I’m enjoying my time in Japan. Sometimes, when we’re back at the hotel, I sit in my room and work on Hex Describe. Check out the activity on GitHub, if you’re interested.

If you want, reload the village description a few times. There’s more information for keeps, towers, and temples of Set, Orcus, and Thor. I still need to add more descriptions for the remaining major powers.

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2018-03-29 Generating Islands

Vague thoughts on randomly generating a map for a pirate campaign, or a colonialism, slavery, the spice trade, the silver train (and robbing it), and all that.

Think about the Haitian Revolution. Or Ching Shih. Pirates! The Philippines.

I think the first problem I usually have is island formation. Specially if we want atolls, or a chain of islands. Are we going to model a hot spot like Hawaii? Or something like the Caribbean, or the Pacific Rim? How many hexes per island are we going to aim for? If it is going to be just three or four per island, then questions of altitude are moot. But if we want to generate islands like Cuba and Tahiti, the result would be very different.

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2018-03-21 Adding Factions

I’ve added the naming of regional things to Hex Describe. Once again, it was a conversation with Paolo Greco that pushed me. Thanks!

Basically, the idea is that there are some regional things with names such as factions, dukes, and so on. In the following example, we have bugbears belonging to the Wolf Eyes tribe and I want to make sure that there are at most three tribes on the map, but I don’t want to use the same three names for every map. Thus, I need a table to generate bugbear band names, and there should be at most three of them.

0302: Hiding between the trees are watchful eyes in the service of the elves underground, 6 bugbears led by one they call Silent Paws belonging to the Wolf Eyes band. There is a town of 100 humans led by a necromancer (level 9) called Florina who lives in a keep with a retainer, the fighter (level 7) Shathviha and their whip, the knight Henna (level 6). The log cabins are protected by a town wall and the river. There is a market. Green Creek runs through here. Shady Road leads through here.

Image 1 for 2018-03-18 Adding Mushrooms

Here’s how to set it up:

;trees
...
1,Hiding between the trees are watchful eyes in the service of the elves underground, [1d8 bugbears].


;fir-forest
...
1,In this fir forest is a little campsite with [1d8 bugbears].

;1d8 bugbears
1,the *bugbear* [bugbear]
7,[1d7+1] *bugbears* led by one they call [bugbear] belonging to [a bugbear band]

;a bugbear band
1,[name for a bugbear band1]
1,[name for a bugbear band2]
1,[name for a bugbear band3]

;name for a bugbear band1
1,[bugbear band]

;name for a bugbear band2
1,[bugbear band]

;name for a bugbear band3
1,[bugbear band]

;bugbear band
1,[bugbear band 1] [bugbear band 2]

;bugbear band 1
1,Bear
1,Lynx
1,Cat
1,Wolf

;bugbear band 2
1,Claws
1,Ears
1,Teeth
1,Eyes

The pattern “name for a thing” is key, here. Whenever a table has this name, it will determine the result for the table and keep returning that. Thus, with the tables as they are, eventually all the bugbear bands will have one of three names as “name for a bugbear band1-3” are eventually determined.

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2018-03-20 Naming Rivers, Canyons, Trails

I’ve added the naming of linear things to Hex Describe. Rivers, trails, canyons, and any user-defined lines on the map can now have names. The default map implements this in a very simplistic manner, mostly just to show that it works.

0201: A ruined tower standing on a small island in this swamp is home to the ettin called Club and Nail. Brown Creek runs through here. Hollow Lane goes through here.

Image 1 for 2018-03-18 Adding Mushrooms

The basis of all this are the generated lines on the map. The Alpine maps usually come with things like the following at the end:

...
1704-1604-1505 canyon
1510-1610-1711 river
1609-1710-1810-1711 river
1310-1410-1511 river
...
0404-0302 trail
0709-0610 trail
0305-0302 trail
...

These can now be named. The default table has entries like the following:

;canyon
1,[name for river] has dug itself a deep gorge.
1,The gorge is wonderful and deep.
1,Crossing the canyon requires climbing gear.

;river
1,[name for river] flows through here.
1,[name for river] runs through here.

;name for river
1,[river 1] [river 2]

...

;trail
1,[name for trail] goes through here.
1,[name for trail] leads through here.

;name for trail
9,[trail 1] [trail 2]
1,[trail 1] [trail 1] [trail 2]

I like it, but perhaps it’s getting too verbose? This information should probably simple be on the map itself. But that’s harder to do...

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Comments on 2018-03-20 Naming Rivers, Canyons, Trails

From my G+ post:

I think this means that almost all of the code aspects I wanted to implement are now implemented. What’s missing is the naming of singular things, like “There are barracks with troops loyal to [name for a duke 1].” Whenever it would get used, the same name would get produced for the entire region. There would be no dependency on map features.

The big challenge that lies ahead is to improve the tables in order to maintain my vision of the “basic” and “boring” wilderness setup, with a better distribution of encounters, more and better names, more interesting settlements and lairs without going crazy. Should I add treasure?

Without going crazy is important to me. After all, this is supposed to create a mini-campaign setting for the referee to work on. Perhaps the most important change would be the addition of more whitespace between the hex descriptions! “Basic & Boring” is my motto. I would like to make it easy for people to take the default tables and add their own (taking tables from Abulafia, for example), and then republishing those.

– Alex Schroeder 2018-03-20 10:52 UTC


I always say: know your competition. Today I learned of an alternative to Abulafia and Hex Describe called Tracery. It’s a text generator written in Javascript.

An interesting feature it has: “Often you want to save information. [...] In their basic form, they create some new rules and push them onto a symbol, creating that symbol if it didn’t exist, or hiding its previous value if it did.”

And more, haha:

Oh, an Allison is on Mastodon, too: @aparrish.

– Alex Schroeder 2018-03-20 18:44 UTC


Christoper Week suggested a look at RandomGen, yet another random text driven generator. And it has context variables, too. The How To has so many good ideas!

  • automatic s for plurals
  • automatic an or a for the article
  • capitalization (first letter or all words)
  • identifiers (variables)
  • attributes (associated with identifiers)
  • variable repetitions
  • quick alternatives without subtables
  • including remote text files
  • using Pastebins

There is nothing new under the sun and all my generator does is retrace a path taken by plenty of others. Well, I connect it to a map, I guess that’s new. Maybe that tells me where I need to focus.

– Alex 2018-03-20 19:34 UTC

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2018-03-19 Adding Faces

I’ve plugged my Face Generator into Hex Describe. Here is the output of a settlement governed by a bunch of humans, with faces.

Showing faces

The setup depends on the implementation details, sadly.

The default table has the following entry:

;human
1,[man]<img src="[[redirect https://campaignwiki.org/face/redirect/alex/man]]" />
1,[woman]<img src="[[redirect https://campaignwiki.org/face/redirect/alex/woman]]" />

As HTML gets passed through, this already adds the images to the output. Getting them to float in an acceptable manner took a bit more work. There is a post-processing step which rearranges the HTML: It moves all the images in a paragraph to the very beginning and into a span element with a class I can refer to in the CSS. With that, I can then size the faces using CSS, and float the images to the left.

What do you think?

The construct [[redirect URL]] should work for any web service that redirects to its result. Instead of following the redirect and retrieving the image, the construct just inserts the new location into the output. This makes sure that you can save the description to a file, reload it in the future, and you’ll still get the same faces.

In practice I think this will be hard for services not hosted on the same domain since campaignwiki.org is secured by HTTPS and I think most browsers will then refuse to load resources such as images from services that aren’t hosted on the same domain (same-origin policy).

I guess Hex Describe could proxy the resources. But perhaps that opens me up to abuse? I don’t know. We’ll see when somebody asks me to support something specific.

The human names are taken from my Halberds & Helmets Character Generator, by the way. Those were taken from the Zurich birth registers in 2012. Sadly, the original data is no longer available.

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2018-03-18 Adding Mushrooms

These days I try to write a table or two for Hex Describe every day.

Today I hopped on the RPG OSR Discord channel and asked: “Anybody interested in spending half an hour adding content to some random tables used to describe a mountainous region?” Tommi Brander spoke up and we expanded on the mushrooms together.

Image 1

This is what we came up with:

;forest
1,Tall trees and dense canopy keep the sunlight away. There are big mushrooms everywhere. [mushrooms]
...

;mushrooms
1,The mushrooms are guarded by [mykonids]
1,If eaten, [do something interesting]
1,These mushrooms are actually the antennaes and horns for the big sleeping supermushroom [name for forest/forest-hill/trees/fir-forest/firs] living beneath the forest. Around here, your sleep will be filled with mushroom dreams.

;mykonids
1,[3d6] *mykonids*.
1,[3d6] *mykonids* guarding a mushroom circle. On nights of the full moon, or on a 1 in 6, the portal to the fey realms opens. If so, [2d12] *elves* led by one they call [elf leader] (level [1d6+1]) will be visiting.

;do something interesting
1,save vs. poison or die. The locals use this to kill criminals.
1,save vs. poison or loose your voice for a week. The locals avoid doing this.
1,save vs. poison or be cursed to turn into a mykonid over the coming week.
1,save vs. poison or be paralysed for 1d4 hours. Local Set cultists will trade in these mushrooms.
1,gain telepathic powers for a week. The locals use them to spy on the thoughts of any foreigners.
1,enjoy wild and colorful visions for 1d20 hours. If you roll higher than your wisdom, see something relevant for the current campaign. The locals lead village idiots here to warn them of impeding danger.
1,heal 1d6+1. The locals assemble here after a fight to recuperate.

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