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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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2015-11-28 Difficulty

In a discussion of Michael Prescott’s post on Google+ on a post by Brendan S on Google+ I wrote the following:

Sadly, I just have a suspicion: at first, DW seemed weird and different when it comes to those rolls, but then having the same odds no matter how good or experienced a character is does seem to be very similar to how D&D 3.5 worked for me over many campaigns. As our skills went up, so did the DCs. As our to-hit values went up, so did our ACs. In classic D&D, there are no skill checks but attribute checks remain the same no matter what. Not much different! And since characters not specializing in their skills had basically no chance to make their rolls, that feels a lot like a self assembled list of moves. (Leaving the back and forth of player moves and GM moves aside for now.)

In classic D&D, the situation is different in combat because the two sides don’t keep on climbing. ACs go down, but not forever (maybe if you use Gary Gygax’s Monster Manuals with their devils and demons). Effectively, there are situations we can simply ignore. Meeting 1–6 orcs is not an encounter after you reach a certain level. DW would simply say that the move says you announce future badness and a handful of orcs just ain’t that. All in all, I feel these DW aspects are not too different from D&D as it is played at my table.


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2015-11-21 Fountain Pen

These days, I’m taking notes with a fountain pen. I asked for one for my birthday in April and got a LAMY studio imperialblue with an F nib. I used this pen to draw the faces for my Face Generator using T10 blue ink. And I’m still using it. When I looked at the notes I scanned, yesterday, I was reminded of all the note taking I’m doing on those notebooks with my fountain pen. There is an anachronistic pleasure in it. :)



Comments on 2015-11-21 Fountain Pen

I thought about getting a good fountain pen for note-taking at work. Still haven’t decided. What’s the advantage over a rollerball or ballpoint? Does it justify the price difference?

– Stefan 2015-11-23 05:01 UTC

Alex Schroeder
Naja, es gibt Leute, die behaupten, Kugelschreiber haben unsere Handschrift verändert. Aber bei der Frage, ob das wirklich einen signifikanten Einflüss hat, scheiden sich die Geister.

Deswegen: Füllfeder ist definitiv etwas für den Hipster in dir!

– Alex Schroeder 2015-11-23 09:32 UTC

Ist denn eine Veränderung gleich eine Verschlechterung?

– Stefan 2015-11-23 15:52 UTC

Alex Schroeder
Natürlich nicht. Wenn du eine Veränderung spannend findest und nur noch mit Kugelschreiber und harten Bleistiften schreibst, dann ist es spannend, zurück zu einer Füllfeder zu wechseln. Das scheint mir der einzige Vorteil zu sein. Abwechslung ist doch das Schönste im Leben. :)

Ich selber war auch neugierig. Beim Schreiben längerer Briefe hatte ich oft einen kleinen Krampf in der Hand. Fehlende Übung oder die vermaledeiten Kugelschreiber? Nicht dass ich viele, lange Briefe schreiben würde…

– Alex Schroeder 2015-11-23 15:58 UTC

Ich schreibe deutlich schneller auf einer Tastatur als mit der Hand. Trotzdem muss ich oft Notizen in einen Block schreiben. Bisher habe ich das meisten mit dem Bleistift gemacht, möchte mir aber jetzt angewöhnen, erst zu denken, dann zu schreiben. Deswegen verwende ich in letzter Zeit immer öfter einen Kugelschreiber :-)

Und jetzt bin ich auf den Geschmack gekommen und überlege mir, meinen Plastik Caran D’Ache Kugelschreiber durch etwas Hochwertigeres zu ersetzen (Wer hat das gesagt? Hipster, bist du das?)

– Anonymous 2015-11-23 20:56 UTC

Alex Schroeder
Im Geschäftsleben ist es leider so, dass es an Sitzungen einerseits sozial nicht akzeptabel ist, auf den Bildschirm zu schauen und zu tippen, wenn jemand redet, und zudem sind wir uns gewohnt, an Texten während dem Tippen zu feilen. Kopieren, Einsetzen, Rumschieben, Fehlerkorrektur, man wird verleitet, langsamer zu sein. So habe ich mir angewöhnt, Notizen von anhand zu machen, und beim Übertragen die Dinge nochmals zu überarbeiten.

Privat ist es eher so, dass ich Freude am schön schreiben habe und mir wünschte, schöner schreiben zu können.

– Alex Schroeder 2015-11-23 21:11 UTC

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2015-11-18 Dungeon World

So, I wrote a few posts about Dungeon World in the recent past and then I ran a game, last Monday!

How did it go? It went well. I had six players, a bit of a language split – three native English speakers and three native German speakers and two of them sometimes had trouble understanding some of the stuff on the character sheets. That was unfortunate. On of the players had been a backer and had both soft-cover and hard-cover books with him where as I just has some print-outs and the sheets by Maezar. I also offered my players to use the Freebooters of the Frontier sheets instead, but since nobody had a strong opinion about that and the backer didn’t know about Freebooters, I dropped it. I guess I still used some moves from Perilous Wild behind the screen and it was good.

What about prep? Prep was OK. I had a map, I had some ideas, I had some dangers and discoveries listed, two fronts, dooms, stuff was going to happen but for a 3h One Shot including character generation, I’d say I was slightly over-prepared in terms of map and settlements and slightly under-prepared when it came to dangers and discoveries. I should have had longer lists of cool stuff. I also started the game with the party in a swamp on the way to a barrow, the ranger posited that he had been following tracks, soon it was determined that there were smaller tracks following the larger tracks (announcing future badness) and soon we had a fight with six player characters vs. ten froglings. I think that fight could have been a shorter. Using ten enemies was a bit much.

What about feedback? The players said they liked it. At first, the lack of a turn structure might have been strange but I guess it worked. The two mostly German speaking players weren’t as active as they might have been, perhaps. But I know one of them from another campaign where he’s also not one to take center stage – and sadly, one prone to looking at his phone a lot, during the game. I didn’t feel too bad about him getting less spot light.

What about my own feelings regarding player agency? Tricky. Comparing it to my old school sandbox games, I’d say many things were similar or the procedures resulted in a similar experience for players.

  • there was a regional map with lairs and sources of evil and going to particular places had consequences
  • there was no dungeon map and as time was running out, I shortened it dramatically – moving to the final chamber in no time; but adjusting to time constraints is something I do all the time
  • my traditional dungeon prep sometimes starts with a sort of point-crawl between interesting locations that are barely described; the rest is improvised – and it didn’t feel very different from my perspective; perhaps also because the dungeon was super small in the end: entrance, water filled corridor, central chamber

Some pictures to illustrate my points.

Traditional point crawl dungeon:


My Dungeon World prep:

https://farm6.staticflickr.com/5682/23084770801_a4ec7e7681_z.jpg https://farm6.staticflickr.com/5800/23047562186_bf998f05da_c.jpg https://farm6.staticflickr.com/5729/23047572636_5365ab4e82_c.jpg

Also note the terrible mix of German and English in my notes. ;-)


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2015-11-15 Prep

Joey Lindsey recently asked on Google+ about adventure prep.

My answer: I start with a theme or a particular need based on the campaign. Then I draw a map, perhaps a rough one, perhaps just a point crawl, based on some visuals I want in my game. I’ll often add doodles to bridge the time between interesting ideas. They don’t come so fast, sadly. The doodles also serve as visual reminders for later. At the same time, I start thinking about the monsters and make a big random list of them. Sometimes there are small lists per area or level instead of a single big one. Most of these monsters also have a lair where they’re guaranteed to be. Then I’ll roll for treasure and I usually accept what the table tells me. If the campaign setup requires a particular item to be here, then I’ll add it as well.

The order of these elements will sometimes vary. I might also start with the doodle of a monster, add stats, make a list, and then draw a map. Rolling up treasure always comes last, however.

Some recent examples:

https://farm8.staticflickr.com/7771/17963087830_db75b1f2c3_c.jpg https://farm8.staticflickr.com/7618/16805958768_71c38355d9_c.jpg https://farm8.staticflickr.com/7553/16117940957_2a1cb1ed31_c.jpg https://farm4.staticflickr.com/3853/14796855991_9fcfe7a295_c.jpg


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2015-11-08 Moves

I’ve been thinking about Dungeon World some more. Here are some of my comments from a recent post on Google+.

It all started with me reading the answer to How to ask nicely in Dungeon World on StackExchange. The answer says: There’s also no GM move called “have a freeform social interaction.” If the GM is following the rules, this kind of stall should not happen. […] Since the “everyone looks to you to find out what happens” trigger matches, it’s now the GM’s turn to make an appropriate move, instead of falling into “time for unstructured social exchange improvisation!” habits that they have brought with them from some other game. The rest of the answer picks all the GM moves in the book and provides an explanation of how it might have gone.

When talking about my classic D&D games with others, we sometimes talked about procedures (or the lack thereof). When I tried to explain how great classic D&D was to Lior oh so long ago, he said that he would love to see some practical instructions on how to make a game interesting. Classic D&D seemed to be steeped in oral culture transmitted outside the written rules. You learned how to do it from friends, or through years of experience, or by reading and talking about it online (which is how I finally got it). As we gave Apocalypse World a try, it seemed to us that there was something here about telling us how to run a game but we just couldn’t nail it. I don’t remember whether we were just too blind to see, or too distracted by all the new jargon, or too fascinated by the moves in play books. I think that now, I’m slowly starting to get it.

There are still reasons not to like the game. The game no longer promises ever changing game play via mechanics (spells changing the adventures you can run, hit-points being replaced by saving-throws, and so on). And I still don’t quite see how the game can surprise me – how will I avoid making decisions that I feel the rules should make for me? The advice for running a dungeon basically suggest improvising a dungeon based on moves, i.e. whenever the players are at a loss, or when they fail their rolls, the dungeon grows, the monsters move, dead ends appear, signs of trouble ahead show up, and so on. “Dungeon Moves are a special subset that are used to make or alter a dungeon on the fly. Use these if your players are exploring a hostile area that you don’t already have planned completely.”

Even if I use The Perilous Wilds as my rules, these thing are still true. Except now there are more tools to work with, more specific instructions: countdowns for themes, a predetermined size, and so on. It seems to me that DW and friends are very interested in “play to see what happens” and one of the consequences is that the world is being generated as you go, based on your moves and the improvisations of the DM. That, in turn, is perhaps why my suspension of disbelief might not work as well. Or perhaps that’s simply a problem for an old school D&D player. If we’re exploring an existing place with an existing map, and existing dangers and treasures, it feels more “real” than generating things as we go. If the consequences of failure are generated by random rolls on a table, if the danger of monsters depends on the severity of my moves, then the rules can say fiction first as long as they want, I read it as DM fiat. But: This could be my D&D bias. Perhaps DW does not shirk from DM fiat as long as it follows from the fiction. Perhaps it works at the table even if everybody knows that the DM is improvising. After all, D&D also requires improvising but generally DMs will try to hide the fact that they’re doing it. The impression of impartiality is generated by dice rolling. Staying true to the fiction is presumed.

Then again, when I look at some of my recent “dungeons”, I find that I mostly think of them as interesting areas, connect one way or another, it doesn’t really matter. Plus monsters and treasure, and traps, rarely. Perhaps that’s not very far away from what Dungeon World and friends are suggesting. After all, the improvisation and dice rolling at the table is only for “a hostile area that you don’t already have planned completely.” I’m suspecting that – at the table! – my current method and the Dungeon World method with a little planning are not very different, after all.

Curious and willing to learn, in any case.

This is what a recent dungeon map for classic D&D looked like, in my campaign:



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2015-11-06 Level Limits

Gavin recently proposed replacing demi-human level limits for classic D&D with an XP penalty, on G+. Here’s what I said.

Whenever level limits for demi-humans come up I wonder: is this an actual problem at the table? I’ve been playing for years and the first cleric characters are slowly reaching level nine, now. And I’m tiring of these campaigns. The chances our campaign ending before level limits come up are far higher.

But I have a point regarding the math, too. If XP requirements double every level, then getting 50% XP simply means loosing a level. In the long run, that doesn’t make much of a difference. You could argue that this is exactly what elves in B/X D&D or Labyrinth Lord actually do: If you think of elves as splitting their XP between fighter and magic-user, then they only get 50% of their XP for their magic-user class and thus they need to gain 5000 XP to get to the equivalent of a magic-user with 2500 XP…

So, part of my argument is: “it has already been done.”

As an argument with players at the table, however, I’d simply pull out a list mapping levels to the importance of people in the world. Something short and visual, like this:

1. noobs
3. veterans, village heroes, sergeants, squad commanders
5. town leaders, captains, company commanders
7. lieutenants, second-in-commands
9. rulers of a castle, of a hex, of a tribe, barons

So basically, the level of non-magical types shows how big their domain in this campaign setting is. If the limit is 8, then ambitions are smaller than a castle. If the limit is 12, then the domain they rule can be larger: various mountain hexes. If the limit is 10, then the domain is simply a forest hex, maybe two. With no level limit, immortality or fighting the gods for divinity is the end game.

If your players agree with the power distribution of the end game, then the level limits remain. If they prefer to go for immortality and divinity, then just get rid of the level limits, no XP penalty required. You can still keep those level limits for non-player characters, if you want.

Or you could say that elves without level limits are obviously Melnibonéan overlords riding dragons and they exist and they run this place. :)


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2015-11-02 Fronts

Reading the Dungeon World chapter on fronts makes me want to rewrite the list of open plots and the todo lists for a quest or two, and the list of random upcoming campaign changes as fronts. Perhaps that would make all these things clearer to me. Now that I think about it, my campaign threats are a confusing mess of half baked ideas. They work – I think – but perhaps they’d work better if written up as fronts.


See the picture on the right for what I have for my campaign fronts. I probably have one or two more which I don’t consider to be a urgent. One thing I noticed is that the old structure of my notes was this: if you want to resurrect Arden, you need to do the following… and what followed was a list of quests, each of which I felt would make a nice adventure, should the players decide to follow up on it. The write-up as front changes the setup: if players don’t resurrect Arden, his insanity will spread, somebody else will take the throne of light and so on. I’m not sure I like this shift from “this is a sandbox and whatever you want to achieve will be full of adventure” to “the world will go from bad to worse if you don’t take matters into your own hands”. I suddenly feel like might be preparing two or three campaign arcs or adventure paths… a kind of campaign setup I tried to avoid because players end up feeling like they have less choice. Everything is falling to pieces and there is pressure everywhere and time is running out and go, go, go!

This seems to be the biggest difference in terms of how fronts work compared to my traditional preparations. In my sandbox, players get interested in things, they learn more about it, they formulate goals and then they discover all the difficulties that need to be overcome. The world is essentially static.

Sure, we like to talk about “living” sandboxes and all that but my campaign events are random intrusions where I think to myself, “an invasion of mind-flayers sounds great” and then the setting starts to change.

This process is less structured than the fronts of Dungeon World. Fronts are also tied into moves, so a failed roll by a player can advance a front.

No such thing happened in my sandboxes. People felt free to calmly consider the missions they care about and do some horse trading: “You’ll help me bring down Susrael and I’ll help you bring back the fire giant’s wife, OK?” Fronts put pressure on players and I don’t think they’ll feel as free to pick and choose because there will be consequences, always.

Anyway, I recently bought Freebooters on the Frontier, A Book of Beasts, Perilous Almanacs, The Perilous Wilds and The Perilous Wilds Survival Kit by Jason Lutes as well as Dungeon World by Sage LaTorra and Adam Koebel.

Comments here or on G+.


Comments on 2015-11-02 Fronts

Alex Schroeder
As Dungeon World is on my mind these days, here are two links that made me buy all the PDFs: a review of Perilous Wilds by Ramanan S. and Test-driving Dungeon World by Brendan S., to bloggers I respect, not only because their last name starts with an S.

– Alex S. 2015-11-02 19:29 UTC

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2015-10-31 Reputation, again

I’ve been thinking about a system to track reputations again and again over the years. They never seem to work as intended. The players are not too invested.

In 2009, I thought of something I called “the gods are watching you.”. If you do something to please or annoy a particular god, you gain a reputation. It doesn’t matter if it’s good or bad. The gods will know you whether you’re building their temples or desecrating their altars. Reputation is neutral, so to say. I still like this part. The trouble is keeping track of it all.

In 2010, I proposed a system based on quests. Depending on the importance of the deed, the limit for gaining reputation would shift. To raise your reputation from +2 to +4, for example, it was no longer enough to save a life (or sacrifice a life) – you had to basically save (or destroy) entire settlements.

In 2012, I proposed to modify the system in order to allow players to roll dice. I thought that this would get players more invested. They might ask me, “Hey, don’t I get to roll my reputation die?” If I modify their reputation between sessions as part of writing the session report, it doesn’t have the same kind of impact as when we’re sitting at the table, negotiating reputation effects and rolling dice. Sadly, it still hasn’t taken off.

Today, I saw a blog post by Cecil Howe called Guilty By Association: A Simple, Visual REP System which has a little PDF with a system that allows you to keep visual track of reputation. (Also on Google+.)

                     Character: ______________

Faction             Negative     Bonus      Positive
	       ┌─┬─┐ ┌─┬─┐ ┌─┬─┐ ┌───┐ ┌─┬─┐ ┌─┬─┐ ┌─┬─┐ 
               ├─┼─┤ ├─┼─┤ ├─┼─┤ │   │ ├─┼─┤ ├─┼─┤ ├─┼─┤ 
_____________  └─┴─┘ └─┴─┘ └─┴─┘ └───┘ └─┴─┘ └─┴─┘ └─┴─┘ 
	       ┌─┬─┐ ┌─┬─┐ ┌─┬─┐ ┌───┐ ┌─┬─┐ ┌─┬─┐ ┌─┬─┐ 
	       ├─┼─┤ ├─┼─┤ ├─┼─┤ │   │ ├─┼─┤ ├─┼─┤ ├─┼─┤ 
_____________  └─┴─┘ └─┴─┘ └─┴─┘ └───┘ └─┴─┘ └─┴─┘ └─┴─┘ 
	       ┌─┬─┐ ┌─┬─┐ ┌─┬─┐ ┌───┐ ┌─┬─┐ ┌─┬─┐ ┌─┬─┐ 
	       ├─┼─┤ ├─┼─┤ ├─┼─┤ │   │ ├─┼─┤ ├─┼─┤ ├─┼─┤ 
_____________  └─┴─┘ └─┴─┘ └─┴─┘ └───┘ └─┴─┘ └─┴─┘ └─┴─┘ 

Perhaps I should do something similar? You could keep track of both positive and negative elements and get a clearer picture. Perhaps if we had a sheet at the table, they’d be more invested?


Comments on 2015-10-31 Reputation, again

I just thought… maybe the problem is more one of control? Give the PCs a sheet and let them decide how to align themselves? Or they have a few points at the start of the career and can get more by using contacts and questing for different factions… wich could lead to loss at other factions. Depending on how they spent their points, they either add to the ones gained by the quest or the lower the negative effect on an opposing factions… This could be done mechanically or via social encounters. Let’s say the PCs raided a warehouse of the thievesguild. The paladin gets a point he adds to the good standing with the police force, even further alienating the guild, while the thief gives gold and information to the guild to lessen his loss in reputation with the guild (maybe by roleplaying how he convinces the guildmaster that having one who the police regards as “reformed” is more worth than whatever was in the warehouse… “Oh, and by the way, they put the crates with the drugs in cell number 3…”) Just my 2 cents.

rorschachhamster 2015-10-31 10:08 UTC

Indeed, making it more visible, and giving players more control. A good point!

– AlexSchroeder 2015-10-31 13:09 UTC

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2015-10-08 Dwarves

I’m super happy with my dwarven faces!

Here, have a random dwarf:


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2015-10-05 Character Sheet Generator Using New Face Generator

My Character Sheet Generator now uses my Face Generator. The rewrite is done and it’s time to go back to drawing some face elements! Elves!


Comments on 2015-10-05 Character Sheet Generator Using New Face Generator

Alex Schroeder
Now drawing: dwarf beards.

– Alex Schroeder 2015-10-07 09:39 UTC

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