Following the link chain from Erol Otus Interview to An interview with fantasy artist Erol Otus to The Ur-Quan Masters I ended up wasting a few hours playing this game. Multi-platform (Windows, Mac OSX, various GNU/Linux and BSD variants) awesome using astroid-like navigation when in combat (turn you ship clockwise or counter-clockwise, thrust, and shoot) with lots of weird aliens that you need to convince of an alliance.
The Ultronomicon is the Ur-Quon Master wiki. Go to the non-spoiler hints and look at the First Things To Do page.
The trees have not been trying to fuck me through the nose in recent days. I’ve been spared any significant pollen allergies for at least a week. Good days!
Today is the last day to submit to the Erol Otus Art Challenge…
Following in the footsteps of Tim Short’s A Kinda New Look at Mr. Doppelganger, Michael Shorten’s The food chain - uber monsters and civilization and Dragons and Spawning and pesky Adventurers (author name?), I decided to write something about übermonsters. It reminds me of Robin Stacey’s Problem Monster Number Uno in Save or Die Issue #3, the Bodak.
My explanation for why humanity has not turned to cattle is organization. I imagine it like the Inquisition in the old days. Except that you add magic and heroes to the mix. And don’t forget “At-will Detect Evil” as one anonymous commenter said in one of the threads linked above.
So, I imagine a gang of twelve doppelgängers arriving in a frontier town. They kill twelve villagers, and settle in. And then what? They have a child? In which case it does come down to gestation period, replication rate, details of biology.
In any case, the day will come when somebody starts to suspect. If a person suspecting the shapechangers is disposed off, this will arouse more suspicion. If such a person is allowed to live, the power of Law kicks in. Clerics can cast spells, paladins can detect evil, witch hunters know about their weakness (in the case of doppelgangers this would be alcohol), a mob is assembled, and even if they are spellcasters or awesome fighting machines: will they stand against 100 angry villagers? Even if they win and leave the village, there will be pursuit eventually.
In my games, level nine is name level. Thus, in every settled five mile hex there is a level nine person and their entourage, possibly more. These people will also know how to deal with typical übermonsters.
That explains why übermonsters have not taken over the world and turned all humans into cattle. Sure, this might not work everywhere and all the time. But those situations would be temporary anomalies. Eventually, a hero will come along, clear the hex, and get rid of a village full of doppelgängers. There is no such thing within human lands, unless the doppelgängers “behave exactly like humans”.
That leaves the question of the wilderness. I agree, the wilderness will be full of doppelgängers, except for the areas where even greater evil rules – giants, dragons, what have you.
In short, I’m not worried about übermonsters.
Except for the Bodak.
A picture of James’ Silver Marshes for Faerûn that we play every other Monday.
From left to right: Moni (who also plays in both Sunday games, one run by me, the other run by James), Marco (who runs an Echoes of Heaven campaign and plays on one of the Sunday games), Marcel (who also plays in a West Marshes style campaign), James (who is running the campaign on the picture and our Shackled City campaign on a Sunday per month), Daniel (who also plays in a Deadlands campaign, I think), and I’m taking the picture (I also run our Rise of the Runelords campaign on all remaining Mondays, play in the same game Marcel plays in, run one Sunday game, play in James’ Sunday game, and I play in Marco’s game).
When I look at this list, I’m impressed. We must be hardcore! :D
The Sunday group has six players. Half the players liked it immediately, one of them saying they’d like to start a warband using their entourage, and two others hired a bard each. I think that’s an excellent start.
Does anybody remember who wrote on their blog that they didn’t mind their player’s using the D&D 3.5 rules as long as they could use simpler rules behind the screen? That’s what I’m trying to do.
Also, nobody minded the level cap because when I started looking for players I told everybody that the campaign would end around level nine to twelve.
What I really like about Scott’s campaigns (real name?) is his literary grounding. It seems that he picks a number of books that will act as inspiration for a particular campaign, and exclude all others. Here are his two lists:
So many unread books and so little time!
Update: It turns out that Zachary has been thinking of a very similar topic – instead of asking the per-campaign question, he just asks the per-judge question.
Update: Even more…
When I’m working on Oddmuse, I will often edit a test file, first. Today, for example, I edited
t/history.t and was interested in the state of things once it had run. Usually I’d run
perl t/history.t and then something like
perl wiki.pl action=index and look at the HTML code. But this time I wanted to see it in a browser. And I didn’t want to setup my local webserver to use the test data directory. So I wrote a little shell script:
#!/bin/sh export WikiDataDir=test-data exec perl wiki.pl $* | perl -e 'undef $/; $_=<STDIN>; s/.*?\r?\n\r?\n//s; print $_;' | w3m -T text/html
I called it
oddview and run it from my
oddmuse directory like this:
oddview action=index and I’ll get the index action result as a web page displayed in the the text browser w3m. Yay!
So I’m looking at this adventure, and it has an Ogre 4th level barbarian in it (D&D 3.5). They mention his minimum damage while using a Power Attack +7, and I started wondering… It suspected they had made a mistake.
AC 10, Dex 12 (unlike the MM, and no ring) ⇒ +1, natural ⇒ +5, +1 hide armor ⇒ +4, rage ⇒ -2, size ⇒ -1 = 17 (touch 9) – this is one better for touch because of the Dex difference and no +1 ring of protection. Hitpoints 4d8 (ogre) +4d12 (barbarian levels) +48 (raging Con 22 ⇒ +6 per HD) +3 (Toughness feat) = 95 – correct BAB +7, raging Str 30 ⇒ +10, +1 greatclub ⇒ +1, weapon focus ⇒ +1, +7 power attack ⇒ -7 = +12/+7 to attack Damage 2d8, raging Str 30 ⇒ +10, two handed ⇒ +5, +1 greatclub ⇒ +1, +7 two handed power attack ⇒ +14 = 2d8+30
Damage while raging and with full power-attack is 32-46 – wow!
I hate to do this number-crunching, but these numbers are far from obvious when looking at the stat blocks in both the adventure and the Monster Manual. It’s far too easy to forget. Gaah! Too much work for far too little fun.
Some months ago I asked about Podcast recommendations (2009-01-30 RPG Podcast Recommendations Wanted). A few months later, here is my current list.
These I listen to as soon as they are out:
These I listen to occasionally:
I have some more in my feed but I don’t listen to them as regularly.
I’d also like to offer a glimpse into my game prep by showing you the notes I used for a two session adventure. These notes are “real” notes, not written up to be published. They would also fit on a page of A4 paper, should I try. As it is, I have an A6 page from a sketchbook and two sheets of A5 paper.
Some campaign background: The party has a shadow elf looking for her abandoned ancestral home and meets a sort of chicken Indiana Jones who tells her he has some information for her, if she agrees to get the stone tablets from an old elephant temple that has recently been uncovered by a landslide.
The first session the party goes in, fights ogres in the hills, fights the bear in the cave, finds the secret door behind the elephant statue, avoids the rolling boulder trap, finds a room with stone tablets on the walls, copies them, and takes them back. Chicken Indiana Jones says: “But where are the rest of them? Surely you must have found the secret temple behind the facade!” The players roar in anger and I roar in glee…
The second session the party knows that there must be a second temple hiding behind the first (a temple to the moon) and ends up finding a third temple hiding behind the second (a temple to death). If you’re interested in the source material of the various funky stuff that’s coming together, here: We’re playing on the Lenap map of The Wilderlands of High Fantasy (Necromancer Games), I’m thinking of using Caverns of Thracia (Necromancer Games) soon, and The Sunken Ziggurat (Goodman Games).
If you look at the XP report of the session you’ll note that I have a weird system of assigning XP for this campaign: I’m assigning “points” to interesting stuff and hand out 300 XP per point. Usually combat is worth the CR of the enemies divided by two in points. Discovering stuff about the setting and doing things provides the other half of the XP, because that’s the kind of thing I want to encourage.
Two A5 pages, being the equivalent of a “one page dungeon” ;) :
I drew the map by hand on traditional graph paper, scanned it, manipulated brightness and contrast until it looked more or less OK, imported it into Inkscape, traced it, and added text wherever I found some free space.
In my Alder King game, this water temple provided adventure for two sessions. The first session was spent trying to talk to the kuo-toa living in the temple, fighting a crazy loner, and luring some others into an ambush. The next session they discovered a well that eventually led to the stirges’ nest and the priest. They never discovered the necromancer lair and he still lives beneath the city of the flying monkeys in Quin Parr’s realm. I like to return to old adventure locations and thus I’m sure that the necromancer will turn up one way or another in the sessions to come.
I’m thinking about adding mail subscription to Oddmuse. I used to oppose this, claiming that people should use rss2email and similar feed subscriptions as a replacement. I changed my mind when I joined the RPG Bloggers. I read a lot of posts from blogs I’m not subscribed to. When I leave a comment, I’m interested in getting notified of replies to this one post only. Email just works.
Visitors can add their email address and click a checkbox to subscribe to changes when they edit a page. The requirement to successfully edit a page acts as a defense mechanism against spammers and vandals (SoftSecurity).
Email addresses are stored in a file. Each mail contains an unsubscribe link, and from there users can see (and unsubscribe from) all other pages they are subscribed to. The link contains a hash of the email address which prevents others from guessing what email addresses have subscriptions.
There is also an admin interface that shows which email addresses are subscribed to which pages, allowing the easy removal of email addresses from the database.
The problem was that on my host, there is no C compiler, so I was unable to install Email::Sender. The web processes also run in an environment without access to sendmail. Net::SMTP does not support Transport Layer Security (TLS). Googling around I found a “Simple SMTP client with STARTTLS and AUTH support” by Michal Ludvig: Command line SMTP client.
On my Mac OS 10.4 system at home, I wasted a lot of time trying to install Bundle::CPAN. Gaaah! Some dependencies were not automatic, but a few good invocations of
reports on the CPAN command-line followed by manual installation of the missing package did the job.
I also needed to install IO::Socket::SSL with all its dependencies. Yuck! And it turns out that there is a dependency on Net::SSLeay, which needs a C compiler to build.
Thus, the command-line script will also not do for me!
In the end, I think I will ask them to install libemail-send-perl and libnet-smtp-ssl-perl for Email::Send and Net::SMTP::SSL; there is also Email::Send::Gmail but no corresponding Debian package. We’ll see; I might get it to work without.
Anyway, I decided to invest some time into coding an Oddmuse extension. I was all enthusiastic about it. But now I spent hours fooling around with Perl installations and test programs, I think I will stop it now and read a book or something.
Thinking about it some more, sending mail after an edit might work for comment submission on comment pages, but it will never work for edits to ordinary pages. So right now I’m working on code that lets me subscribe and unsubscribe from pages, and a computer-readable output of said data. Then I will use a cron-job to send the appropriate emails.
Ich fasse es nicht. Meine Kritzelei hat in der Erol Otus Art Challenge eine ehrenvolle Erwähnung (“honorable mention”) erhalten. Wahnsinn. Dabei habe ich das Bild nur eingeschickt, weil Calithena so eindringlich um weitere Einsendungen bat: “Please submit stuff! We have some good entries already but I want Erol to feel good about the volume as well!”
Jetzt finde ich mich plötzlich in Mitten einer Liste von Kandidaten, die mir schon fast die Tränen in die Augen treiben.
Besonders erwähnen möchte ich Jennifer Weigel, die schon seid geraumer Zeit den Blog ihres Partners, The Art of the Near TPK, mit Bildern versorgt. Mit wenigen Linien schafft sie die geniale Linie zwischen naiven Bildern und leicht verstörenden Andeutungen.
Soweit die Künstler, welche mir auch schon vorher aufgefallen waren. Jetzt mache ich mich mal daran, alle Webseiten durchzuklicken.
Es muss wieder einmal gesagt werden: Mir macht die Charakteroptimierung keinen Spass. Auf Natalie Bennetts Blog fand ich einen Artikel, wo sie schreibt, wie frustrierend es ist, je einen Charakter auf Stufe 10 und Stufe 20 für D&D zu machen (in ihrem Fall handelt es sich um Arcana Evolved für D&D 3). Ich hatte schon etwas Mühe mit meiner Charaktererschaffung in der Rolemaster Kampagne Die Reise nach Rhûn – da haben wir sicher zwei oder drei Stunden insgesamt darauf verwendet, und mehr Spass als mit “3d6 in der richtigen Reihenfolge” werde ich vermutlich auch nicht haben.
Wenn ich denke, dass ich als junger Spieler auch gerne mehr Waffenspezialisierungen, Talente und Fertigkeiten, Proben und andere Dinge gehabt hätte, und wie sehr mich genau diese Dinge jetzt langweilen, muss ich immer daran denken, dass man mit seinen Wünschen vorsichtig sein soll, denn vielleicht bekommt man ja, was man sich wünscht.
What about the use of music at the gaming table? One of my DMs uses the Baldur's Gate soundtrack every time.
I tried it using the Vagrant Story soundtrack and writing down a few key elements of the various tracks. I knew the track that started with a bang and was useful for combat and I planned to switch to that as the dice fell for initiative.
It turned out too complex to juggle. I forgot to turn it off when combat ended until a player complained; I forgot to turn it on half the time; it took me critical seconds between combat announcement and die rolls to skip to the right track.
Lesson learnt. I no longer do this.
I do scream “DO DOO DOO DOOOOOM!!!!” at the table at opportune moments, however.
Or I’ll start with “Ok, so you’re walking down this corridor, when… [humming as I looking up stuff] dumdidumdidooo…” Players will shout “Watch out, random encounter incoming!!”
In a way I have maybe three or four such “musical” humming themes that I use at the table.
“Wheeeeeouuuuwheeeooouuuwheeeeee…” Flying monsters attack!!
I heartily recommend to use a variety of grunting, howling, cackling, drumming, whimpering, and crooning at the table to immitate cinematic soundtrack-like effects. You can’t sing all the time, you can’t produce the real sound-effects, but you can be entertaining!
I will now go back to my Graded Go Problems For Beginners. Bought all four books 2nd hand many years ago. Now I just need to work through them! And I prefer to do that offline.
If you don’t mind doing it online, check out Go Problems.
Best comment ever on the Pirate Bay cabaret:
Posted by: technophile | 05/22/09 | 7:44 am SHUT UP AND SEED
I think the key to understanding the “old school” vs. “new school” (I hear you groan already) is the idea of affordance.
Even if you don’t care about old schoold and new school – and I don’t care about the discussion, I just care about using Labyrinth Lord instead of D&D 4E – even if you don’t care, the idea of affordance is something you might find useful when picking the system for your next campaign, or when figuring out why a particular person is unhappy in their current gaming group.
James Maliszewski started the discussion by claiming that “old school” was more than a feeling; it had to be an element of the system used, otherwise all discussion is immedately made moot. Rob Conley replied by saying that it’s not necessarily an element of the rules, and not just a feeling, it’s an attitude.
A year ago, I would have agreed with Rob. I wanted to play old school games, but my players wanted to use D&D 3.5 rules. No problem, I thought. I’ll just run a game using my old school attitude. But it didn’t work.
The reason is that the system afforded (invited, encouraged, suggested) certain player behaviour that disagreed with my sensibilities behind the screen. I could have tried to fight them every step of the way, but I’m a casual DM. I have better things to do in life than waste time trying to educate grown up people who spend their precious time at my table. They, too, have better things to do.
It reminded me of my earliest attempt to use the Kitsunemori setting. My players didn’t enjoy the changed armor rules, the new weapon list, changed cleric abilities, removal of the monk class, changes to the magic system, and so on. Either it was too much to read, or they had strong desires to try this or that build, or they just didn’t care. Trying to use the setting crunch was a waste of time, and I quickly realized it.
Similarly, trying to use the new rules and play an “old school” game is going to waste a lot of your time. Maybe it’ll work if all your players are specifically interested in it. My players have not been as interested as I, and thus my attempts have fallen flat. My attitude alone was not enough.
It seems to me that you need all the players to buy into the old school attitude. And that, to me, seems to be the equivalent of heavily house-ruling the game, even if you never write down which parts of the rules you will not be using.
System does matter.
Update: For an example, check out 2009-05-25 B ⁄ X Affordances.
I get to play Labyrinth Lord with Zeno and his kids, rarely. In the spirit of yesterday’s post on old school affordances, let me list some of them, as far as I’m concerned. As I noted in yesterday’s post, whether these are affordances you prefer is an entirely different question. All I’m saying is that if you agree with them, then Labyrinth Lord or B/X D&D by Moldvay, Marsh, and Cook might be a system you’d like.
No Skills: This challenges players. They need to roleplay to be diplomatic, intimidating, bluffing, or sense the DM’s motives. I also find that players need to guess where hidden treasure and secret doors are. This usually involves mapping.
Few Classes: Fewer classes and no prestige classes or other specializations provide less mechanical differentiation between characters. Players need to roleplay in order to differentiate characters. This also makes character generation easier and faster as there is no character career planning required.
Quick Chargen: Easy character generation with few actual choices to make speed things up. A high attrition rate is therefore more acceptable as you can bring multiple characters to the table and make extras in a minute or two.
Rare Healing: Players need to avoid wandering monsters and avoid unnecessary fighting. This makes strategic decisions (when to fight) more important than tactical decisions (how to fight).
Simple Combat: No explicit rules for combat maneuvers and battle grids result in quicker combat rounds, less waiting for your turn, and possibly more fights per session, if desired.
Little Damage, Few Hit-Points: Fewer attacks and smaller damage bonuses simplify the math and speed things up.
Smaller Bonuses: The smaller bonuses due to abilities reduce the math and produce far less trickle down effects. This also makes the initial ability rolls less important (without actually resorting to point-buy). Characters are also mechanically more similar.
Random Chargen: Random character generation also provides a strong incentive to just play the class the dice suggest possibly resulting in a surprise for players and interesting party dynamics.
Treasure Is Experience: Treasure acting as story reward encourages to research their goals, picking their fights carefully. It also provides for an easy and quick reason for the party to form and go adventuring.
No Magic Item Bazaar: There are no good rules for magic item creation and trading, therefore they are rare (what you find is what you get – WYFIWYG). They cannot be used for character differentiation. Instead, creative use of magic items is encouraged since they are rare and cannot be sold to buy something else.
Random Encounters, Random Monsters: These force the DM to improvise and adapt the story on the fly (not adapting the story will lead to a dull game).
Do you agree? Things I missed? What cool experiences does your favorite system afford?
(Also note how I sneakily avoided the use of “old school” in the title, haha.)
Phil hat gesagt, dass es auf alle Fälle ein PDF mit den Wettbewerbsgewinnern geben wird; selber bin ich aber an allen 112 Beiträgen interessiert und have auf einem Campaign Wiki eine Sammlung aller bisher veröffentlichten Beiträge angefangen.
Fight On! #5 has been released.
As usual, I have stuff to say about Lulu pricing, and shipping and handling in particular!
|The Spire of Iron and Crystal by Matthew Finch||36 pages||$9.95|
|Swords & Wizardry Monster Book by Matthew Finch||140 pages||$11.50|
|Knockspell Magazine #2 by Matthew Finch||86 pages||$10.15|
|Fight On! #5 - Spring 2009 by Ignatius Umlaut||88 pages||$9.00|
|Coupon Savings (MAYCONTEST10)||$-4.06|
|Shipping and Handling||$23.31|
Shiping and handling is more than 30% – that hurts. I heard that they’re working on International Shipping Solutions. Let’s hope they get their act together, soon. I’m looking at “This should greatly reduce the shipping costs anywhere in Europe.” And I wonder: Are they talking about Europe the continent, or Europe the Union that Switzerland is not part of?
I’m a bit surprised that the adventure and Knockspell #2 both cost more than Fight On! #5. grumble
Ok, now I have to make sure to get something in for #6. Let me see… Due date is June 27!
Perhaps my biggest personal problem is that I feel like I want to teach the kids how to really roleplay, rather than just chew scenery and kill stuff. Those games don’r really feel all that fulfilling. The system does seem to interact with this tendency (e.g., I’ve gotten the kids to take an active narrative role when running a one-shot of !InSpectres before), but it’s not a purely causal relationship. Instead it appears to be an interaction of the RPG system, the group’s dominant playstyle (i.e., most players regress towards the mean so to speak), and the style of the story. As we wrap up this school year I’m already planning for next year’s activities: One thing I definitely want to try is dividing the group by their playstyle and then trying to help them match a system with that style. – MJ Harnish 
Here’s my suggestion to understand the group dynamics: Assuming a mixed group of player types, there might be a tendency for the player type that is rewarded the most to dominate the group play style. If there are kick-ass players and storytellers, the kick-ass players will be rewarded by loot and XP when they win fights, and if there are a lot of fights, the storytellers will loose influence over the group play style.
If you want to revert this trend, it’s not enough to have less fights, because then everybody will feel bored. Instead, you need to actually reward storytellers. Reward how, you ask? I don’t know. It would have to be something that is immediately recognized as a reward by both player types. Two things that I try to do in my games (specially in my Alder King Sunday game):
I think it’s important for your rewards to afford (invite, encourage, suggest) the kind of play style you’d like to see.
A word of warning, however.
Check out the Breakdown Of RPG Players article, and pay attention to this part:
We also have data that suggests that most groups are made up of people who segment differently (that is, monolithic segmentation within a gaming group is rare), and in fact, having different kinds of players tends to make the RPG experience work better over the long haul. 
I conclude that we should not segregate groups by play style.
Neil Geiman argues Why defend freedom of icky speech? I arrived at that page via Manga collector faces 15 years in jail because some of his comics included sexual images of children via a message by @greywulf.
Zach asked on his blog: Number of Players In Your Group?
I answered in a comment but wanted to highlight my preference for a West Marches style game.
I play in several campaigns. The two Monday games have 5 players and 1 DM; one Sunday game has 5 players and 1 DM; the other Sunday game has 6 players and 1 DM; the irregular game has 5 players and 1 DM; the large campaign 8 players and 1 DM but for any one particular session we’re limiting the number of players to 5; the game with the kids has 3 players and 1 DM; the Rolemaster campaign has 7 players and 1 DM (but I’ve never seen all of them attend a session).
I’ve run D&D 3.5 games with seven players on a regular basis and I thought it was OK, but when one of the players left and I asked the group, they said they preferred the smaller size.
I think it’s much easier to run larger groups with simple rules, and group activities like fighting and riddle solving work better than social interactions (where usually just one person does the talking).
What works admirably well is having a big player pool but limiting the number of players per session. I like it! I’m not doing more of that because the players I have right now want to come to every single session.
I’m suspecting that this sort of session structure encourages (affords) simple hit and run missions that you can play through in a single session. As time passes, players come to realize that every session seems to follow the same structure: Move out, reach target, search around, small fight, small fight, boss fight, treasure, home. If you find yourself in that situation I encourage you to think about a trade-off: Just treat the changes in party composition between sessions as “editing mistakes in the movie” – I find that my players are comfortable with ignoring those continuity bugs.
Just got reminded of a post on the web that uses a map of mine. I know that many people use images without caring about a license. Please don’t do it. I hope I don’t do it, and I’ve seen many that use images from Flickr and attribute the images, usually by naming authors and linking to the appropriate Flickr page. This I like.
Some people will claim fair use, but in other jurisdictions such as Switzerland where I live, there is no such exception to copyright law. Instead, we have a limited number of exceptions, one of them being the right to cite a work for the purpose of criticism. Just using my picture doesn’t really do that, however. There’s also a lot more info about fair use on the Wikipedia page I linked to above.
To make it short, I was expecting a credit and a link for my map somewhere. If you took the map from Fight On!, then there’s no license for reuse, and if you took the map from my Flickr account, then it says some rights reserved and links to a page saying that attribution is required. Thus mentioning my name (or nick) and linking it to the source page seems like the obvious thing to do.
I would also encourage all RPG Bloggers out there to not just use any ol’ image, but care about authors and their rights. If you’re talking about a product, it’s ok to use a picture of the product and be done with it. Otherwise, check whether you’re allowed to use pictures, and follow the rules. Get some very old pictures that are no longer protected by copyright; search for pictures that allow you to reuse them, often by just naming and linking the author (personally I recommend Flickr).
And if you really care about the issue, help reduce copyright protection from decades after the death of the author to a much smaller and reasonable number of years. Also, make your own stuff available under a permissive license that allows reuse and remixing. I recommend reading Free Culture; an awesome book also available for free online.