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).
If you want to run longer campaigns, this is what I’m doing: My campaign world is infinite. Planes, other continents, from dinosaurs to lasers, it’s all there. And even if I want to combine two settings, I’ll use Planescape ideas to connect them, bend a little here and there, no problem. Then, players have an effect on the setting, change it. This is cool. It can be a short campaign of six sessions (that’s not what I do, though). The next campaign will be somewhat related. It takes place nearby. A few years in the future. In an alternate plane that involved the old campaign somehow. And that’s how the campaign transcends characters and rules. Use D&D 3.5 for a bunch of characters. Then use Solar System for a bunch of characters. Then use Labyrinth Lord for a bunch of characters. Then move to the Astral Sea. Then play some first level characters doing jobs for the high level characters. Then switch to the high level characters again. And if that gets boring, let’s see about marriage and children. Let’s play the kids!
I just read an interesting blog post called Thoughts on Philosophical GameMastering by Vb Wyrde. He says: “I would argue, […] that whether they know it consciously or or not, every World is an expression of the innermost convictions of it’s GameMaster.” He illustrates the point by referring to a friend who felt “that the Universe is really just a gigantic eating machine”. And the campaign he ran illustrated the point.
Now I’m wondering which of my personal convictions players will find in my Five Winds campaign.
I need to think about this some more!
To be sure, I don’t really care that much about in in-game philosophies. I like Planescape and therefore there are factions in my campaign following doctrines inspired by schools of philosophy. What I care about is reflections of my own opinions and prejudices in my game world.
Discussion on Google+, if you want.
I’ll have to look at some off line backups at home. Apparently the pages were still around three days ago (2015-05-08).
OK, so we talked about setting up a game of Hexcrawling and how the game will eventually reach its limit if the known region keeps growing and more and more factions are being introduced, more lairs, more assets, more domain turns; the game starts to collapse under its own weight. We also talked about my Domain Game Goals. The things I like. The things my players like. We have come to the point where we need to talk about the kind of procedures that will offer us an interesting domain game without growing as the domain expands.
I think this is key: The procedure must always take the same amount of time. Think about random encounters. No matter how big your party, you always roll once for random encounters. The monsters might be stronger. The trek might be longer. But the number of rolls is constant. But think also about its failure modes. If the party travels for eight weeks, do you roll for over 100 random encounters? I don’t. That’s why random encounters only work at a certain scale. Our domain game procedure will also work at a certain scale. We’ll postpone thinking about attaining immortality and godhood, for now.
The simplest solution would be a random domain roll. The results on the table are all either adventure hooks or role-playing opportunities where we get to see what kind of people the player characters are.
Several things are still missing. In order to track the “mood” of the current campaign arc, you could run with Chris Kutalik’s idea of a chaos index as explained in his blog post The Weird is Rising, Thanks World Engine.
I think I’d like more of a multi-dimensional framework that takes the gods into account. You could use something like the fronts on the MC sheet for Sagas of the Icelanders. Have a list of gods or other influences, list some keywords (“Hel: breathe disease, consume, hoard with greed”) that will color current events. This forces you to vary the description of the results depending on what front is in ascendancy. Use the result of the random domain roll to build a little four step countdown. If the party does not engage, step one happens. If they leave it to fester, step two happens. If they are busy elsewhere, step three happens. If they don’t take care of it now, step four happens. As time keeps passing and more rolls are made, issues are piling up. This is good.
If your players have “traits” that influence the domain game such as Sticky Fingers which I mentioned in previous post on the same topic, some of the results on the domain roll table should reflect that. In a Dispute situation, for example, Sticky Fingers might allow you to ignore the first two steps of the countdown as your thieves infiltrate your neighbor’s domain. You will have to handle the issue eventually or just move to War.
The important thing is this: I’m looking for a solution that limits the number of dice rolls and that doesn’t require any sort of computation before rolling. I don’t want to roll for every unconquered monster lair. I don’t want to add a bunch of numbers on the wiki for every roll I make. I don’t even want to look at what the last roll four sessions ago was before making a roll.
We had another one-shot. Playbooks used: grandmother, shield maid, seiđkona, and child. I looked at fronts and decided to have the influence of Hel color the session. A grey winter day, visions of blood seeping up from the ground, dead friends calling you from beyond the fence, ghosts trying to lure people out into the snow storm… Sadly, the session wasn’t very good.
The player of the child felt he had ended up with a playbook unsuited to the situation. What use was there to hiding and sneaking? I guess it might have played like Newt in Aliens: Bonding, and spending those bonds to grant benefits to those braving the storm.
Also, the tension between violence being always available to solve problems but being basically the wrong tool because people will get hurt and die – the tension between men and women, where women goad men into action, where men are mute and violent – all of that was missing because of our all-female cast.
I recently wrote about my current setup for a campaign wilderness map and the associated hexcrawling that goes along with it. The greater context is the promise of ever changing gameplay. This is true for characters with saving throws replacing armor class as your most important defense, this is true for spells that change how the game is run, and I want it to be true for the campaign itself where dungeon looting yields to wilderness exploration, and eventually to kingdom building.
Kingdom building is what the domain game is all about. Wilderness exploration is about travelling from here to there and the creatures you encounter. It’s about learning who your allies and enemies are, new towns with new leaders and their own economic goals, monster lairs, humanoid tribes, instigating war, brokering peace. Eventually, the players are going to lay claim on a lair or a town. Now what?
Let us consider existing options for the domain game. The simplest rules I know are the ones in the Expert set by Cook and Marsh. Fighters get a land grant, build a castle, clear the surrounding area of monsters, organize patrols, attract settlers, raise taxes. Any mercenaries hired cost money. Clerics do the same thing, but their castle is only half as expensive and they get fanatically loyal troops for free (5d6×10). A magic-user gets to build a tower and attracts apprentices (1d6). A thief gets to build a hideout and attracts more thieves (2d6). Demihumans are like fighters. They build a stronghold and attract settlers of their own kind. Elves are automatically friends with the local animals. As for the attraction of settlers, all it says is that spending money on improvements (“inns, mills, boatyards, etc.”) or advising will do it. The details are up to the referee.
If you want a bit more detail you can use An Echo Resounding. It’s what I have been using for a while. A while back, I wrote a summary of the rules. Apparently you can add a lot more details by using Adventure Conqueror King System. There is an interesting comparison of An Echo Resounding and Adventure Conqueror King a forum I read a few years ago.
Unfortunately it’s turning out to be too much work for me. When I look at the monthly campaign summaries—something I write every four sessions—I notice that there is some free form stuff in the Sages and Spies inspired by recent events, my players’ interests and adventure hooks, and there is some stuff generated by the rules of An Echo Resounding. For every lair I need to find out whether it spawns units. If it does, these units need to attack a nearby location. I need to resolve these fights and if the units win, they plunder the location they attacked. For every non-player domain I need to figure out what sort of move they make during their domain turn. This involves looking at the numbers and rolling a d20, but often it has been so long that I feel I need to double check those numbers or I find little mistakes. In the end, a lot of time gets spend for very little gain. Or, to look at it from another perspective, I spend some time looking at numbers and rolling dice to produce text that is boring compared to the free form stuff I write up for the Sages and Spies section.
The stuff players like about the system don’t involve that much maintenance. They like knowing about their units and they like going to war every now and then. They like to build things in their domain. In my game, gold spent yields experience points. Since I have a list suggested prices for buildings, this encourages them to build temples, hospitals, towers, bath houses, and so on.
|a small statue for a well or a garden||50gp|
|a small, public altar made of stone with spirit gate und a small well (5ft.×5ft.)||250gp|
|a small shop made of wood with a place to sleep in the back room (15ft.×15ft.)||300gp|
|a simple wooden building with one floor such as a tavern, a gallery or a gambling den (50ft.×50ft.)||700gp|
|a wooden building with two floors in a village (50ft.×50ft.)||1500gp|
|a stone building with two floors in a village (50ft.×50ft.)||3000gp|
|a manor house with two floors, marble columns and statues in a city (50ft.×50ft.)||10,000gp|
|a provincial castle with six floors (60ft.×60ft.) and an inner courtyard (30ft.×60ft.) surrounded by a wall||75,000gp|
This leads to a strange effect: Build a large wooden Freya temple for 1500 gold and you’ve got a temple and 1500 experience points (gold spent = xp gained). Spend a few domain turns building a temple, however, and you will have a temple, it will give you Wealth -1 and Social +4, and a powerful 9th level cleric will come and settle here (using An Echo Resounding).
Having two very different ways of building a temple complicates things. It seems to me that paying for the temple using their own gold is a more visceral experience for players. They built it. This is what it cost. It’s easy to embellish it. It’s easy to list it on the campaign wiki. It doesn’t require anything on my part except determining a suitable price when they ask for a quote.
I also think they don’t mind getting a 9th level cleric, but there are still questions: why haven’t we met them before? Why aren’t they coming on adventures? In fact, why isn’t this a player character?
My game allows players to run multiple characters. In a particular session, players can bring up to three characters. The character with the highest level is the main character, the others act as secondary characters. Experience point gained for killing monsters is split on a per head basis. Treasure—and therefore experience points for gold—is split by shares. Every main character gets a full share, every secondary character gets half a share.
Sometimes, players will grow tired of characters. Sometimes, characters will break bones or loose limbs. These characters are perfect fits for these roles. Majordomos of castles, priests in temples, heads of guilds, captains of ships, regents of towns.
This is how I hope to achieve a greater identification with the setting. Over time, more and more important folks will be former player characters. It’s also ideal for a new campaign. At first, no high level priests exist. As soon as the first player character cleric reaches 9th level, however, raise dead is an option for all the player characters in the region—even if they’re playing in a different group! And raise dead will remain an option even if the player running the character abandons them or if the player leaves my table. The character has been established, backstory included.
My players also love their units. This is not a problem. We can keep the champion levels introduced by An Echo Resounding. The chapter introducing champion levels is Open Game Content. I’d go further than that, though. We could get rid of all the resource points and simply say that all other need to be equipped and hired.
The party could build an armory, buy equipment for four hundred heavy infantry (swords, chain and shield is 60 gold per person based on prices in Moldvay’s Basic D&D or 24000 gold total + 3000 gold for the armory itself based on my list of buildings above). Then, if the town is big enough to supply enough able bodied fighters, four units of heavy infantry militia will automatically be available whenever the town is attacked.
Hiring mercenaries will require less money. Human heavy foot guards in peace time will cost three gold per month (1200 gold per month for four units), twice as much in war time (2400 gold per month for four units).
I don’t think I need to use the War Machine rules introduced in the Rules Cyclopedia. I can keep using the unit combat rules in An Echo Resounding, the B/X Companion by Jonathan Becker, or the M20 Mass Combat Rules by Greywulf. I’m not sure what my favorite mass combat rules are, for the moment. I’m tending towards keeping the rules from An Echo Resounding because rolling for attack and damage is easy to remember. There is no scale factor and there is no /Unit Attack Matrix/. That makes it easier to understand.
What about the abilities your champion gets that aren’t tied to units? Sticky Fingers gives you +4 Wealth value. I don’t want to think about domain income, upkeep, taxes or tolls. When Chris Kutalik started rethinking domain-level play in his campaign, he suggested the use of domain skills and a skill check to go along with it. I don’t want to introduce skill checks and I don’t want minor and major skills in my game, however. Sticky Fingers does sound like a skill, though.
So, that’s where I’m at right now. What about abilities, or aspects?
Based on a recommendation on Google+ I took a look at Houses of the Blooded. There, you have domains consisting of provinces and each province consisting of ten regions. Each region produces something, and based on that you can have armies, goods, trade, and so on. I think it interesting, but I don’t think I’d want my D&D to be about it. Too much detail, it’s not really part of player characters, we wouldn’t want to spend time on it at the table, and so on.
I was also looking at the King Arthur’s Pendragon and The Great Pendragon Campaign. My campaign fell apart because of many reasons, but the lousy winter season where you’re supposed to look after your family, your manor house, your lands, build fortifications and all that—this part of the game just was not exciting enough at the table. And that is a problem. As Chris says in one of his blog posts, there’s always the danger of these systems turning “boardgamey” or “beancounterly.” Or that all the decisions have no consequence after all.
I’m still chewing on this.
I’ve recently started a new campaign. Here’s how I did it.
First, I got myself a hex map. I created this one using Text Mapper:
Repeat until you like what you’re seeing. The random terrain is generated using the Welsh Piper’s algorithm as described in Erin D. Smale’s Hex Based Campaign Design, Part 1; the icons are based on the Gnomeyland SVG Map Icons by Gregory B. MacKenzie.
This is the regional map I got:
On this map, I placed a city, a few towns, a few lairs, a few resources – all according to the setup suggestions in An Echo Resounding. Unfortunately I can’t show them to you because they’re secret, but I did print out this map and use little stickers to help me picture it all, in the top right corner:
Then I picked the starting location for my adventures and added some details:
I added some taverns, a ruler, a keep and some guilds to the starting town and wrote it up: Greyheim.
The city of Greyheim boasts of the following:
- a river harbor
- the keep where Lady Kyle resides; she will hear complaints and remonstrances on Mondays, hear cases and pronounce sentences on Tuesdays, and witness any executions on Wednesdays; she’ll be out hunting every afternoon
- Singing Mermaid, the harbor inn, for dockers, rafters, knaves and gamblers
- Trader’s Rest, the inn for merchants and successful dungeon delvers
- Haversack, the run-down inn for peasants und luckless dungeon delvers
- a temple of Freya, goddess of fertility, harvest, health, fighting, furs, winter, wolves, and many other things besides
- the Porter’s Guild House where you can hire torchbearers and other hirelings
- the Adventurer’s Guild House where you can find new companions and exchange news
- the Halfling Help Harmony is a self-help organization for halflings; they meet for Sunday brunch at each other’s homesteads in the area around Greyheim, talk about politics, collect money for halflings in need
If you’re a thief, you’ll know where to find the following:
- the Thieves’ Guild House where you can report new targets, fence stolen goods and get new tools
I had also picked the location of our first dungeon and determined that travel to and fro would be safe, at first. Nevertheless, I could not resist writing an encounter table for the Elderberry Forest:
Roll 1d6 once per day and once per night. There’s an encounter on a 1. In that case, roll 1d6, add 3 during the day and consult the following list:
- a darkness of shadows (1-12), guarding an old ruin
- a horde of orcs (10-60), roaming the forest
- the black cat of night (1), hunting
- a pack of wolves (3-18), hunting
- a company of dwarves (5-40), travelling through
- a group of elves (2-12), on a spying mission
- an arse of bandits (10-40), out to rob some rich folk
- an aerie of harpies (2-8), hunting
- a sloth of bears (1-4, in summer, ⅙ of the time including the wandering druid) / shadows (1-12, in winter)
Remember to use reaction tables when encountering these. Remember to provide warning signs when approaching larger groups (sound, smoke, smell).
So what does that give us?
What An Echo Resounding gives us on top of that:
But, as Chris says in one of his blog posts, there’s always the danger of these systems turning “boardgamey” or “beancounterly.” I recently mentioned on Google+ that I wasn’t happy with how An Echo Resounding was going:
How do you run your name level classic D&D campaigns?
I’ve been running An Echo Resounding for my group and they say they like it. I think they like it because they get monthly tales of what their neighbors are doing and maybe once a year there is a big battle. I’m sure they also like having champion levels and getting their own units. I run a domain turn every four sessions. Our sessions are short (about 3h) and we have a full table practically every time (6 players) and players will run multiple characters (2–3) and they’re all getting into champion levels. That’s why the player faction is huge, by now. That means I’ve been expanding the map and I’ve started thinking about adding more domains that can band together and pose a new challenge. At the same time, I fear the bookkeeping. So, what am I to do? I certainly won’t move into a more detailed system like Adventure Conqueror King. Are there alternatives to just winging it? Should I simply fall back to the Rules Cyclopedia, using the War Machine, hiring armies using gold, securing allies using boons and favors? Or should I buy Other Dust? I hear that it has a chapter that goes into Groups. Apocalypse World fronts? How much effort is it to run? I’ve heard speak about Other Dust. Anybody else?
To give you an idea of my game, here are some links to my German campaign wiki.
- the domain of my players with all the champion level units
- a new domain of planar dwarves that hate one of the player characters in particular
- a typical page with the events of a domain turn
The first section lists the output of sages the players hired; the second section is monsters and the like from lairs as per An Echo Resounding; the third section is other domains taking their turns as per An Echo Resounding; the fourth section is the player domain taking their two turns; the last section is a list of open plots.
I’m starting to feel a little overwhelmed and now I need a way to reduce the work load.
+Andy Bartlett said:
If your PC domain is growing in power, is it time for some of the smaller NPC domains to fade into obscurity, at least as far as dicing out their actions is concerned?
+Kevin Crawford said:
When player domains start to become big fish in small ponds, you generally just want to increase the pond size. Are they the hegemon in their region? Okay—scale everything up, as given in the advice on page 43 of the book. Their multi-location domain becomes a single site on a now-larger mapboard, where their competitors are a relative handful of other equal-sized regional hegemons, with old rival domains turning into single locations with flavor text, an appropriate Obstacle, and no further existence under the domain rules. That’s what I’d do in your shoes.
I don’t know. That would allow me to drop the smaller domains, but the larger domains would continue with the endless lists of assets and units. I think this is the point where I’m starting to like Chris Kutalik’s approach he described in Rethinking Domain-Level Play in the Hill Cantons:
NPC advisers carrying and hiding most of the actual domain business (by being “clicked on”) and presenting decision points that gave players choice without swamping the site-based adventure that is D&D’s main thing.
I’ll have to think of something.
Do you use creatures that gate in more creatures like the demons and devils of AD&D? Did you like the effect at the table? Would the new arrivals also gate in more creatures?
The reason I’m asking is because I just stumbled upon the following: “Even though the Abyss is a deadly plane where a single misstep can lead to disaster, In the Abyss isn’t intended to be a PC death trap. To keep the adventure challenging without making it too deadly, use the following guidelines when employing the tanar’ri gate ability: If the number of character levels in the party totals 48 or less, ignore gating (figuring that the creatures the PCs encounter are unwilling to become indebted to other creatures by gating in reinforcements). If the party’s levels total 49 to 60, roll for gating only when the text in an encounter calls for it. If the party’s levels total 61 or more, most tanar’ri the PCs meet should try to gate in reinforcements immediately, and gate attempts called for in the text should automatically succeed. However, fiends that have been gated into an encounter shouldn’t use their own gate abilities unless the PCs are making quick work of it all.” (In the Abyss, p. 3)
I’m also curious regarding your thoughts on this encounter difficulty fuzzing by the referee. It’s something I dislike intensely. At the same time, however, monsters with gate abilities are super swingy: a push over, or a great challenge, but as soon as you gate something in and suddenly: total party kill material. To me, this basically implies a strategy similar to fighting dragons: you essentially need to gain surprise, initiative, make sure to buy extra time using spells, and kill it before it gets to use its special abilities. When I was younger, I hated this. “I didn’t even get to use all it’s awesome abilities!” was a common complaint I had. Now I’ve finally determined what this is all about: some special abilities are there for role-playing encounters: telepathy and friends, basically. The shock and awe powers, however, basically just describe the kind of total defeat you’ll experience if you make the wrong choices, if you don’t prepare for your battles. That works for me.
Zak says on his blog, that “[…] a poem should be more than sufficient to describe a setting.”
The rusting earth is warm and breathes
The earth churns and in the depths we breed
Lick water from stone
Suck marrow from bone.
We burned down every hall of gold
Melted down every statue, broke everything we got
Now all we have is mold
We work the earth and rot.
I am not happy.
So, I had a little Easter Convention at our place this weekend. On Saturday we played Darkening Skies by Chris Sakkas, an unofficial chapter two for Lady Blackbird by John Harper. On Sunday we played the Mass Effect Fate RPG by Don Mappin et al. If you know nothing about Mass Effect, you might want to look at the Mass Effect page on Wikipedia.✎
We had decided upon Mass Effect on Saturday evening so I spent maybe an hour or two reading the rules. On Sunday morning, I spent an hour or two looking for adventure ideas online. Let all past and future sages praise the fabulous Mass Effect Wiki. I finally settled on the events described in Mass Effect: Revelation. I had one player who still wants to play the game and so I felt prequel stuff made good material.✎
The prep I did was this:✎
As you can see, I didn’t get to the stats at the end. The PDF has templates for enemies at three different thread levels. Excellent! I had seen the templates for Blue Suns mercenaries, Human Ruffians and a Krogan Battlemaster, so I felt certain I could improvise whatever came my way.✎
If you read the wiki you’ll note that the story starts as two different threads, one following Saren to Juxhi, the other following Anderson to Elysium and both ending up at the Dah’tan manufacturing plant for a showdown with Skarr. I took notes the way I did because I wanted the players to have the choice to investigate any of the different paths. In the end, they discovered that the Turian thieves had handed over the stolen weapons to some human weapon dealers and decided not to follow the trail to Juxhi but spent some time finding their employers, the Blue Suns, and following that lead via a bar looking like Afterlife in Omega, where Aria runs the show, until they finally tracked down Edan Had’dah at the Dah’tan manufacturing plant. That’s when they learned that the Blue Suns were going to attack Sidon. They sent warning and evacuated the survivors a few days later. Then they went back to the local Blue Suns headquarter and tried to force them into an agreement. No more stealing from Turian freighters, as their mission demanded. A fight ensued, which the Blue Suns eventually conceded and all was resolved in the players favor. There were some hints of things to come, the Sovereign, the Geth, Protheans.✎
I was happy with the plot. At first I thought I’d need more maps or pictures, but in the end Fate isn’t a map based game and the video game may have a lot of map-oriented shooting but the story itself doesn’t really depend on maps. It’s just interesting locations and systems. This worked very well.✎
Character generation took a long time but one of my players had never played a Fate game before and she liked the character creation system. I had A6 index cards on which they wrote beginning, middle and end of three adventures, and that really worked.✎
I was unhappy with the fight. Should I have used just one heavy hitting boss and a ton of mooks? I used a “moderate threat” mercenary for every player (Guns +3) and a boss (Guns +5) and the players were all veterans (apex skill at +5), It took a long time for shields to go down. Luckily I remembered making concessions is part of the game and broke it off after the third mercenary went down. As I’ve said a few years ago, I don't like bennies (or Fate points). This cushions the entire experience and invalidates it, as far as I am concerned. When we talked about it after the game, we all agreed on the difference between heroic deeds and Hollywood action. It just isn’t a “sacrifice” if you have a enough Fate points to cushion the blow. Jörg then suggested the perhaps this would change over time. If we played a longer campaign, the aspects would grow in importance. Players would compel each other. We’d start taking an interested in those particular aspects and we’d want to see how characters grow and change. Perhaps!✎
Before starting the fight I also made sure people had the necessary shields, armor and weapons based on their abilities. In the rules, any of Resources, Leadership, Rapport, Contacts or Security allows you to buy, steal or borrow equipment. And so we made sure they all had the necessary equipment before going into the one and only fight of the session.✎
I have always liked the Diaspora rules. In 2010 I ran a short lived campaign where we moved from Traveller to Diaspora. Unfortunately I had missed the document Hacking Diaspora to Mass Effect. That would have been around 100 pages instead of around 250 pages. Perhaps that would have worked better? It would have been less crunchy, perhaps!✎